Driving in snow, ice, or other inclement weather is an inescapable reality for many people during the cold winter months. But it can also be a dangerous reality. According to the Federal Highway Administration, “each year, 24 percent of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on snowy, slushy or icy pavement” and “over 1,300 people are killed and more than 116,800 people are injured in vehicle crashes on snowy, slushy or icy pavement annually.”
Last week, we covered road safety tips for how to prepare yourself and your car for winter driving. In this blog, we’re going over five practical winter driving tips to help you and your family have a safe and accident-free winter.
1: Have a Winter Driving Plan
If you’re traveling long distances, practice safe driving habits by making sure that someone knows when you plan to leave and arrive, any stops you’ll be making along the way, and what route you will be taking. That way, if something happens and you are unable to reach your destination or get help, someone will know how to find you. Similarly, if you’re traveling a longer distance, be aware of the winter driving conditions along the entirety of the route, to avoid hitting unexpected bad weather in the middle of your journey.
2: Nix the Cruise Control
Driving in snow or other winter weather can create slippery roadways that trick your vehicle’s sensors into thinking that the car is moving much slower than it actually is. This can cause the car to speed up abruptly and without warning, substantially increasing the chances that handling of the vehicle will go out of your control. It’s a good rule of thumb to not use any automated driving systems when driving in snow or ice.
3: Stay Alert
Black ice on roads is a frequent occurrence, and oftentimes you don’t know it’s there until your car is right on top of it. Practice winter driving road safety by exercising extreme caution on bridges and interstate/freeway entrances and exits, as these are often the first areas of the road to freeze. Drive slowly and remember that speed limits are intended for dry weather; it will take much longer to stop a car on a slick surface. Always drive in winter weather with your lights on, so that all surrounding traffic can see you.
4: Practice Snow Plow Road Safety
Generally, when driving in snow, you should try to avoid passing snow plows or other similar vehicles while they are working. Allow plenty of room by staying several car lengths away from the back of the plow; if you are caught in the cloud of snow dust, you are probably too close. And remember, the road conditions in front of a snow plow are typically much worse than those behind. If you must pass, since snow plows push snow to the right, only pass on the left side.
Anytime you encounter a snow plow on the road, give it a wide berth, as the snow plow’s front blade can protrude several feet out in front of the vehicle. Also, some types of snow plows use a “wing plow” that can extend up to 12 feet off the side of the truck. Observe the rules of winter driving road safety and stay extra vigilant for any sudden stops or maneuvers, because snow plow drivers have a very limited field of vision and may not see your car if your vehicle is in a blind spot.
5: If In Doubt, Stay Home
If the winter weather is particularly severe or road conditions are especially bad, the safest winter driving practice you can follow is staying off the roads entirely. Unless it is an emergency, you are better off avoiding the roads than chancing an accident, or worse, by venturing out unnecessarily. If you must go out driving in the snow, check the local weather frequently via radio and the internet to stay up to date on changing conditions. If possible, wait until road crews have had the opportunity to treat the roadways before going out.
Being on the road in icy or snowy weather conditions can be tricky and hazardous, but with the right preparation, knowledge, and choices you can effectively practice winter driving road safety throughout the chilly winter season. Remember to make sure you’re covered with one of our consumer roadside assistance plans.