Winter driving involves some dangerous situations that only occur at this time of year. The hours of darkness increase while daylight hours decrease. Together with fog, rain, snow, sleet, and ice, this problem greatly increases the dangers of driving in the winter months.
Before driving remove snow and ice from the vehicle (especially the hood and windows), be sure that your windshield wiper fluid contains antifreeze. On really cold days, be very careful about using the windshield washer and wipers when driving at high speeds. Even if the fluid contains antifreeze, high speeds combined with extreme cold can freeze the solution on the windshield and completely block your view of the road ahead.
Though it is very important not to start driving before your engine is warmed up, do not warm it up too much. Thirty seconds is usually enough time to allow your engine to idle. A cold engine will warm up faster when the vehicle is being driven than when left to idle for long periods of time. When the weather is unusually cold remember to drive at slower speeds for a few miles to give your car time to warm up.
Get the feel of the road. Try using your brakes while driving slowly to find out just how slippery the road is and adjust your speed accordingly. If your vehicle is equipped with "cruise control" you should avoid using it when driving on slippery roads.
If your vehicle has front-wheel drive, you may want to install snow tires on the front axle. With rear wheel drive vehicles you should have them on the rear axle. If the vehicle has four-wheel drive, all four wheels should have snow tires. They are recommended for general driving during the winter months. This is because they greatly improve general traction, such as for starting and stopping.
However, you should not allow yourself to become too confident just because you have snow tires on your vehicle’s wheels. You still must use slower speeds and longer following distances when driving on ice and snow. Though they are a great help under normal winter driving conditions, snow tires do not give better traction on ice. When the road surface is extremely icy, or covered with hard-packed or very deep snow, reinforced tire chains are much more helpful.
Be prepared for winter driving emergencies. Some of the more common ones are vehicles breaking down or getting stuck in heavy snow or blizzards. During the winter months you should always have the following equipment in your vehicle:
Snow Removal Equipment. Snowplowing accidents are a common occurrence during the winter season. Most of the accidents involving snowplows are caused by motorists colliding with the rear of the plow, or the blade on the side of the plow.
When the weather has produced snowy or icy road conditions it is important for you to watch the roads carefully for snow removal equipment. Watch for flashing white, yellow, and blue lights, which are used on snow removal vehicles. Be alert for dangerous snowclouds or "whiteout" conditions. Because of their traveling speed and size, snowplows tend to create large clouds of blowing snow that may conceal the plow, making it "invisible." It is extremely important to maintain a safe speed and following distance whenever you encounter a snowcloud. It is very dangerous to pass a snowplow when a snowcloud is present. Be patient and wait for conditions to improve before you attempt to pass.
Snowplows and other removal equipment frequently move at very slow speeds, and in residential areas, they must often back up to turn around. Leave extra distance for equipment operators to complete their job safely, and obey snow emergency parking rules. Stay well behind plows to avoid having your vehicle hit by sanding materials, snow, and ice. DON'T CROWD THE PLOW.
Accidents involving often result in property damage, injuries, and sometimes death. Please remember to stay back from snowplows; pass plows only when you can see the entire vehicle, including the blade; and reduce your speed. Also, remember that snowplow drivers have limited visibility. Be extremely careful when entering the Loop as snowplow drivers clearing the shoulder of the road may not be able to see you.
Bad Road and Weather Conditions
Driving Through Snowstorms and Blizzards. Avoid driving during snowstorms and blizzards unless there is no way to avoid doing so. When it does become necessary, remember that you will not be able to see the road ahead as clearly as you would under normal conditions. Therefore, it is very important to drive more slowly and be prepared to stop suddenly. You should be able to stop within the distance lit up by your headlights.
Turn your headlights on low beam. Do NOT switch to high beam. This will create dangerous glare from the reflection of your lights on the blinding snow. If you become weary of straining your eyes to see through the haze or it becomes impossible to do so, pull your vehicle off the road carefully and stop. Wait until you can see the road ahead more clearly before moving on.
If you become stuck on ice or snow, do not panic. Try to free your vehicle by "rocking" it back and forth. Keep the front wheels straight and slowly drive forward and backward as far as possible without spinning the tires. Accelerate gently when the tires grip, then shift to neutral and coast as far as possible in one direction, then apply the brake and repeat this operation in the opposite direction. Do not allow the wheels to spin as that will merely dig deeper and create ice.
If you become snowbound during a heavy snowstorm or blizzard, there are a few important survival tips of which you should be aware. If you are prepared and follow these rules, your chances of surviving and being rescued will be much greater.
Slippery Roads. Slippery roads are very dangerous. Always follow other cars at a safe distance when driving on slippery road surfaces. Remember that on snow or ice it takes three to twelve times as much distance to stop your car as it does on dry pavement. Give yourself plenty of room to stop behind the vehicle you are following. Avoid using "cruise control" when the road surface is slippery.
To get moving on snow or ice, start forward as slowly as your engine will allow. If you have an automatic transmission, step down on the gas slowly and accelerate as smoothly as possible.
If your vehicle has a clutch, let it out very slowly. If your wheels spin, start over again in second or high gear. This allows you to accelerate more smoothly and should help keep your wheels from spinning or sliding.
To stop your vehicle when driving on packed snow or ice, apply the brakes gently. If a wheel "locks up" during braking, the tire slides along the roadway instead of rolling. This increases the stopping distance and the driver may lose steering control as well. If your vehicle is equipped with four-wheel anti-lock brakes, do not let up on the brake pedal. See your owner’s manual for more information on proper emergency braking techniques. For sudden stops in all other vehicles with conventional or rear-wheel anti-lock brakes only, "squeeze" your brakes -- don’t slam down on them! Push your foot down on the brake slowly until you feel the wheels begin to lock up, let off the pedal, and then squeeze again. Repeat this procedure until the vehicle stops.
Skidding. A vehicle starts to skid when its tires lose their grip on the road surface. When this happens to your vehicle your first instinct is to slam your foot down on the brakes. This is a big mistake. Applying the brakes quickly will only cause your vehicle to skid faster. It will also make you unable to steer the vehicle because your front wheels will lock. The main thing to remember in a skid is to keep calm and not overreact.
When your vehicle starts to skid the first thing you have to do is regain control. Keep your feet off the accelerator and brakes until you have regained the ability to steer the vehicle. Only then should you begin to apply the brakes - very carefully. Do not use them unless it is necessary.
Keeping your car under control means you must turn in the direction you want the front of the car to go. Because you are already looking forward you have a definite guideline where you want to steer.
Even though this may seem simple to do, it still requires skill -- and must be done quickly to be effective. A car can reach a "point of no return" very suddenly in a skid. This means the back of the car is going to come around no matter how much you try to steer out of it. You should start to counter-steer as soon as you feel a skid. But don’t counter-steer so sharply that you skid again in the other direction.
The signs that it is time for emergency action by the driver in skid situations are different for front-wheel-drive cars and rear-wheel-drive cars.
The first sign of control loss in a skid in a rear-wheel-drive car is usually a rear-wheel skid. The rear end of the car starts to slide sideways. It could start swinging at wide angles, either to the left or right.
In a front-wheel-drive car, usually the sign is a loss of steering ability. This is because the front wheels are both the drive wheels and the steering wheels.
Some owners of front-wheel-drive cars think they can come out of a skid by giving the car some gas and letting the front wheels "pull" the car straight. Driving experts say this works once in a while, but is not a good idea because it can make the problem worse.
When you start to skid, you want as much steering traction as possible. The best way to do this is to let off of the accelerator and brakes so all your traction can be used for steering.
Of course, it is best to avoid skidding at all. One way to stay in control is to use your brakes properly in winter weather. Not long ago, drivers were told to pump their brakes when they needed to stop on slippery surfaces. Pumping the brakes was supposed to keep them from locking, which causes loss of steering ability. But pumping the brakes -- on snow or ice -- can make the wheels lock for a moment, causing a loss of steering. The rapid leg movements used in pumping the brakes can also keep you from noticing that they have locked.
Instead of pumping, driving experts recommend the "squeeze technique." This simply means you squeeze the brake pedal down until you feel the brakes are about to lock up, let off the pedal, then squeeze again. Squeezing the brakes slows down the car quickly, while letting you feel if the brakes lock up. That way, you will keep your tires rolling, which is the key to steering.
This is not a technique that you will master instantly. Driving experts recommend that you practice braking in a safe area, like a parking lot, so you will develop a sense of when your brakes are about to lock. The only time you should not use this method of braking is when your vehicle has four-wheel anti-lock brakes. In that case it is best to step on the brake pedal and hold it down until you stop the vehicle.
Reacting to an emergency requires quick action, but it is important to avoid stepping too hard on the brakes. If you "stand" on them, you are likely to end up losing control and sliding into someone. By squeezing the brakes and keeping the wheels rolling, you might be able to steer around an object instead of hitting it. If you do panic and lock up the brakes, you can still regain control by backing off the brake pedal.
In many situations it is best to steer around trouble without trying to brake at all. As driving experts point out, if you do not have time to steer around something, you certainly will not have time to stop for it.