How to drive in hazardous winter conditions
Winter driving can create hazardous driving conditions. Both the car and driver must be prepared for these conditions, and the driver must follow additional safe driving practices.
Is Your Car Ready for Winter?
AAA suggests every vehicle be inspected prior to winter weather. Start with these points:
- Have your exhaust, muffler and tailpipe inspected for cracks and visible defects. Carbon monoxide is a silent killer and can accumulate quickly in closed vehicles.
- Keep the gas tank at least half full to prevent frozen fuel lines and to allow you to drive an alternate route to safety or run your car's heater if you get stranded.
- Keep a bottle of lock de-icer in your purse or jacket to avoid costly delays during winter travel.
- Turn on the heater to ensure it's in proper working order for the cold months ahead
- Check your tires to see if they have at least 1/8 inch of tread and to make sure they are properly inflated.
- Inspect wiper blades for wear and tear, and make sure they are in good condition to clear the windshield of heavier precipitation associated with winter months. Keep the windshield washer reservoir filled with antifreeze solvent.
- Change the air filter, if dirty, for more effective fuel and engine performance.
- Clear snow and ice from your entire vehicle and keep it clear so that other drivers can see your hazard lights if you have to stop in an emergency. Remember to clean off headlights and taillights also.
- Have belts and hoses inspected and, if necessary, replaced according to the manufacturer's suggestions.
- Have your battery tested to ensure it is free of corrosion, has adequate water and is still strong enough to endure cold weather.
- Change oil and check the level according to the manufacturer's suggestions.
- Have brakes inspected by a professional mechanic to ensure they are in sound working order. Even braking on all four wheels will lessen the chance of skids on slippery roads.
- Flush and replace antifreeze in the radiator.
- Replenish washer reservoir with the appropriate ratio of water to windshield antifreeze.
- Maintain a vehicle emergency kit:
- with jumper cables
- a small shovel, some sand or cat litter for traction
- a flashlight and extra batteries
- flares or reflective triangles, something red or orange and a whistle to signal help
- a cell phone
- Coffee can furnace (the candle generates heat) - and matches to light the candle
- Carpet strips (for traction under drive wheels)
- Ice scraper and brush
- Newspapers (great insulation when placed between skin and clothing)
- First aid kit
- Food and blanket
- Tire chains (for use on secondary roads only)
Remember, if you are stranded because of winter weather, it is best to stay in your car so you can be found.
Source: AAA North Dakota
Safe Winter Driving Practices
“Know Before You Go” by checking road conditions BEFORE you travel. Check the Travel Information Map or call 511. Let someone know when you depart, your route, and expected arrival time. Do not leave without a full fuel tank.
Turn on your lights. This will increase your visibility to other motorists and snowplow operators. Brush snow from your car that could cover your tail lights.
Never use cruise control on wet or ice roadways.
Get the feel of the roadway. Try your brakes while driving slowly and adjust your speed to how much traction you have. Slow down. Snow tires or tire chains are helpful, but you should still double your distance for following other vehicles. Studded snow tires may be used from October 15 to April 15.
Passing trucks may create snow fog. This greatly reduces your visibility. Look ahead for curves in the road, look behind for vehicles following, and slow down. Remember that on bridges and shaded spots, frost and ice form quicker and are retained longer than on the rest of the roadway.
To stop on ice, you should pump the brakes when driving vehicles equipped with drum-type brakes on all four wheels. Vehicles equipped with disc brakes require a slow, intermittent braking action - fully on and then fully off - long enough to let the disc brakes release so that all wheels are rolling again. If you slam on your brakes, your wheels will lock and your tires will skid.
Keep firm and continuous pressure on anti-lock brakes (ABS). Manually pumping anti-lock brakes, or letting up on them, decreases their effectiveness because it turns the system off and on. Carry a winter survival kit in your vehicle: warm clothing, footwear, shovel, energy food, etc.
If your vehicle becomes stuck in a snowstorm, stay with the vehicle! Most deaths occur when people leave their vehicles and get lost. Open your windows slightly and run the vehicle and heater for only short periods of time to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Stay active and do not panic.
Meeting Snow Removal Equipment
Here are a few suggestions to help you recognize winter driving hazards while plow trucks are working:
- Stay well back from snowplows. Sometimes they have to stop and back up. Plow drivers can't see directly behind themselves, and plows also throw sanding material.
- Remember, don't crowd the plow!
- Know where the plow is on multi-lane roadways. The plow could be in either lane or on the shoulder.
- Be extremely cautious when passing a snowplow. They can be moved sideways by drifts and hard snow-pack.
- Never drive through "whiteouts" caused by crosswinds or plowing light snow.
- Snowplows pull over and stop frequently to allow traffic to pass. Be patient and wait until you can see.
- Watch for plow trucks on Interstate ramps and turning around on "authorized vehicle only" cross-overs.
- Don't assume you'll have good traction because the road "looks" sanded. The sand can sink into the snow-pack, leaving a slick surface.
- Slow down and drive according to the conditions. Most winter crashes are caused by driving too fast for conditions.
Correcting a Skid
In rear-wheel drive automobiles, you should stay off the brakes and gradually ease off the accelerator. Turn your wheels in the direction the rear end of your vehicle is skidding. If the rear end of the vehicle skids right, steer right. If the rear end of the vehicle skids left, steer left. When front-wheel drive vehicles start to skid when traveling at moderate speeds, you should accelerate slightly and steer in the direction you want to go.
If there is no room to accelerate, shift into neutral or push in the clutch. Remember, front-wheel drive vehicles have positive, accurate, and quick steering; the vehicle goes exactly where you point it. Four-wheel drive vehicles have a tendency of giving the driver a false sense of security.
Therefore, slower speeds on slippery surfaces are extremely important. When traveling at moderate speeds, you should accelerate and steer into the direction of the skid.
At higher speeds, or in the event there is no room to accelerate, you should push in the clutch or with automatic transmission vehicles, shift into neutral.
A hard surface roadway is very slippery just after it starts raining. Water combines with the road dirt and oil to form a slick film between your tires and the roadway surface. When the water on the roadway becomes deeper, another hazardous situation occurs: Hydroplaning. This occurs when your tires ride on the water and not on roadway surface.
Most skids are the result of driving too fast for the road conditions on slippery roadways. The key to safe vehicle operation is slower speeds. Rain reduces visibility and increases the possibility of a dangerous skid. Slow down and be alert.