Driving during winter weather is stressful. It's a time when many people get into accidents due to events beyond their control. The safest way to get through a winter storm or severe weather event is to stay home. If you must drive, here are a few common winter driving hazards to watch out for.
1. Poor Visibility
"The days are getting shorter and darker which decreases visibility while driving. Driving slower and maintaining a safe distance can be crucial in avoiding accidents," said Bernard L. Gluckstein, personal injury litigator.
Leaving space between your car and the vehicles in front of you allows extra time to react and avoid an accident. If you have to be somewhere on time and poor visibility poses a challenge due to nighttime driving or winter weather, build in 25% to 50% more travel time than you would normally plan for so you can drive slower.
Falling snow and spray from other vehicles can greatly decrease your visibility. Keep a container of windshield wiper fluid in your trunk with your emergency car kit. When you fill your gas tank, take a moment to top off your windshield wiper fluid. Use an anti-ice formula that won't freeze to the edges of your windshield.
2. Snow and Ice Covering Your Vehicle
Before you move your vehicle, clear the windows, mirrors, and lights of all snow and ice. This can be a tedious (and chilly) task, but it's crucial for your safety. Do not turn on your windshield wipers until you've removed the snow and ice from your windshield and you've confirmed that they aren't frozen to the glass. Your windshield wipers are not tiny snowplows. If you use them to remove snow, you could break your wiper blades or change the tension, making them inoperable.
3. Black Ice
If the road looks wet but temperatures are below freezing, you may be driving on black ice. This thin layer of super-slick ice is often the culprit when four-wheel-drive vehicles with high-quality tires end up in the ditch. No matter how well-equipped your vehicle, black ice can cause you to get into an accident.
"Keep a safe distance between you and other drivers to try and avoid sudden braking and to avoid the spray from the other cars that decrease your visibility," said Karen Condor, an auto insurance expert with AutoInsurance.org.
The only way to drive safely on ice-covered roads is to slow down. Put your hazard lights on so approaching vehicles can see you are moving slowly.
4. Loss of Traction
You are less likely to lose traction if your tires are in good shape. Replace bald or worn tires before winter weather hits.
Even with good tires, you may lose traction and experience momentary brake failure. Avoid fast acceleration and over-braking. Driving too fast for the weather conditions could also cause you to skid or slide.
If you lose control of your vehicle, don't push hard on the brake pedal. Gently press the brake to see if you can regain control.
5. Other Drivers
There are many dangers associated with winter driving that are within your control. You can't change the behavior or reactions of other drivers, though. If possible, concentrate on staying as physically far away from other vehicles as possible. This becomes even more important as you increase your speed.
Driving on ice and snow or during a winter storm requires your full attention. Turn down the radio and ask your passengers to be quiet. If your phone isn't secured to your dashboard, put it in the console or another location within reach. If you are in an accident, your phone may be hard to locate or reach, making it impossible to call for help.
You can't avoid every accident, but the simple act of slowing down can keep you out of a lot of trouble on the road. If you feel insecure about your driving skills in general, consider taking a defensive driving course.