Winter Driving Tips

It’s that time of year again – when ice, snow and slippery conditions increase your chances of a fender-bender, or worse, as you navigate the winter roadways. According to the Federal Highway Administration, over 70 percent of the nation’s roads are located in regions that get more than 5 inches of snow each year. Considering nearly 70% of the US population resides in “snow” states, motorists may be well served by reviewing some tips on how to prepare appropriately for the wintery road conditions.

First, Some Statistics

Each year, 24 percent of vehicle crashes related to weather happen on snowy, icy, or slushy pavement. Of those, 15% occur during snowfall or sleet. Winter weather contributes to over 1,300 deaths and 116,800 injuries each year “through visibility impairment, precipitation, high winds, and temperature extremes. Extreme weather affects driver capabilities, vehicle performance (i.e., traction, stability and maneuverability), pavement friction, roadway infrastructure, crash risk, traffic flow, and agency productivity,” according to the Federal Highway Administration’s Road Weather Management Program.

Tips For Winter Driving Safety

Inspect your Vehicle:

  • Make sure your tires are in good condition and fully inflated. While it won’t stop you from skidding or sliding on ice, it will give you a safety edge on snow-covered roads.
  • Keep your gas tank at least half full to reduce condensation build-up. Less condensation means less likelihood of ice getting into the gas lines. Plus, the gas makes your car heavier which increases traction.
  • Understand your braking system. Do you have a standard or anti-lock brake system? Anti-lock brakes (ABS) work differently on a slick surface than standard brakes so be familiar with your brake type and operation. Standard brakes require the driver to “pump” the brakes to reduce speed without skidding (tap the brake and release several times until you stop or slow enough). ABS brakes prevent your vehicle from skidding by doing the “pumping” for you. You step hard on the brake and the ABS engages and releases the brake internally. You’ll notice your brake pedal vibrating when ABS is activated.
  • Check your battery for sufficient voltage, tight cable connections, and intact belts.
  • Stock your car with appropriate items and supplies for winter driving, in the event you are stuck or get stranded.
    • Snow shovel, broom, snow brush and ice scraper
    • Sand or some other abrasive material, in case you get stuck
    • Jumper cables, flares/markers, and a working flashlight
    • Blankets, winter clothing, emergency kit, white cloth or flag to indicate distress, snacks/water, medicine (for longer trips or trips in rural areas)
    • A portable charger for your cell phone
    • Fresh gasoline, if your vehicle is electric with a gasoline backup system.

If you do get stranded, STAY with your vehicle. It provides shelter and makes it easier for help to find you. If you are running your car for heat, conserve your gas. Also, remember to keep your exhaust pipe free of snow.

Upgrade your Driving Skills:

  • Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface.
  • Increase your following distance from the standard three to four seconds to be eight to ten seconds. It takes longer to stop or slow down in snowy conditions.
  • If you can, don’t use your parking brake in cold, rainy or snowy weather.
  • Use your seat belt every time you get into your vehicle.
  • No sudden moves. Accelerate slowly and let up on the gas if you feel the car sliding or the wheels spinning. This will help you regain traction. Don’t hurry. Give yourself lots of space and time to slow down for lights and stop signs.
  • Reduce your speed. Everything takes longer when the road is snowy or icy. Give yourself maneuvering time by taking it slow.
  • If the snow is deep, don’t stop if you can avoid it. It takes a lot more to start moving from a full stop compared to slowing down and speeding back up again. Slow way down when approaching a stop light and try to keep rolling until it changes, if you can. Obviously other cars in front of you may make this impossible.
  • Be careful on hills. Extra gas will get your wheels spinning and may start a skid. If you can use your vehicle’s inertia to carry you to the top of the hill, with a little extra pressure on the gas pedal, do it. Take it slow on the downside of the hill, as well – keep your speed low enough to maintain traction without sliding.

Perform a Self-Check:

  • Get enough rest. Driving while you are fatigued increases your risk of making mistakes.
  • Dress appropriately for the weather. If you get stuck or break down, you may have to spend time outside the vehicle. Be prepared.
  • No distractions. Cell phones, GPS, texting, music, eating/drinking, and climate controls are all distractions that can take your attention away from the road at a crucial moment. Distracted driving is involved in 10 percent of all fatal crashes and 18 percent of all accidents that caused injuries. Don’t become a statistic.

Stay Home!

Bad weather can be frightening and dangerous and, unless it’s an emergency, there’s probably no road trip that is urgent enough to risk travel in severe conditions. If you can do it, stay home. You may be an experienced driver in snow and ice, but all those other drivers out there may not be able to make the same claim. Besides, nothing compares to being indoors and warm in a secure place as you watch the snow create beauty outside your window.  Be safe.

If you or a loved one feel you might have a legal claim resulting from a weather-related driving accident, contact Martin, Harding and Mazzotti LLP and one of our experienced attorneys can advise you. Statutes of limitations may apply, so don’t delay.   We have locations across New York State, Massachusetts and Vermont to serve you. Call 1800LAW1010 (1.800.529.1010) or fill out this form.