Ice and snow can make for a lot of winter fun whether you’re sledding, skiing, or ice skating. Unfortunately, ice and snow don’t conveniently stay within the ice rinks or on mountain slopes. In Indiana, it also finds its way onto the road. We probably don’t need to tell you that sliding or skidding in your car doesn’t count as winter fun. In fact, the National Highway Safety Traffic Safety Administration reports that on average 17% of total annual car crashes in the U.S. occur in wintry conditions.
Whether you’re a new driver or a seasoned professional, it’s always a good idea to refresh yourself on these tips for safe winter driving.
1. Deciding When to Drive
The number one tip for safe winter driving is to just avoid it if it isn’t completely necessary. Not driving is, obviously, much safer than driving in less-than-optimal conditions. Monitor the weather and decide if the trip is really worth it before you set out.
2. Be Prepared
While you should always get maintenance on your car to make sure it’s in good shape, it’s even more important to take care of your vehicle when it gets colder. Keep your tank of gas at least half full, replace your windshield wipers, check your tire treads and pressure, and keep an emergency kit in your trunk. According to OSHA, having items like blankets, a flashlight, jumper cables, a small shovel, and sand or cat litter (to help tires get traction) on-hand can make all the difference in an emergency. If you’re traveling on remote roads it’s also advisable to bring water bottles and snacks.
3. Ice-Scrapers: Your New Best Friend
Another essential piece of winter car equipment is an ice-scraper. Before taking off, scrape the snow and ice off all of your windows and outside mirrors, and make sure your headlights and brake lights aren’t covered as well. Turn on your window heaters to help melt the ice and, as a bonus, warm up your car’s interior.
4. Use Your Senses (Literally)
Keep an eye on the road and pay attention to how your car handles as you drive. Even if the street has been plowed and might seem clear of hazards, there could still be ice patches blending into the pavement. Stay on the safe side and drive as if the road is littered with ice patches (because it very well could be). Take special care when going over bridges since cold air can flow underneath and keep them icy longer than the rest of the road.
5. Easy Does It
When it comes to getting your car in motion, be sure to accelerate and decelerate slowly; Don’t use your gas and brake pedals too hard, instead, tap them softly to avoid skidding or spinning your wheels.
You should also be extra wary of distances to intersections and stops to give yourself enough time to slow down and stop without sliding. If your car begins to slide, how you should handle it depends on the type of brake system your car has.
If your car has an anti-lock brake system (ABS) then you should press on the brake pedal firmly and hold it. On the other hand, if your car doesn’t come equipped with ABS, then you will need to pump the brakes to allow your car to stay as straight as possible.
6. No Crowding, Please
In the same vein, you should be sure to increase the distance between you and the cars ahead of you. In good conditions, you should maintain a distance of 2-3 seconds behind the car ahead of you. In wintery or icy conditions, your following distance should be increased to at least 5-6 seconds according to Safe Motorist.
7. Staying Safe in a Slide
If you do end up sliding, steer in the direction of the skid. That way, when you regain traction you won’t overcorrect and steer out of your lane. If you’re able to safely slow down and pull over, do so by repeatedly tapping the brakes instead of holding the pedal down.
Pumping the brakes prevents your wheels from locking up, causing you to lose steering control and resulting in a worse situation. It’s also important to remain calm in these types of situations. By reviewing these steps and getting plenty of practice, you’ll gain confidence and become better equipped to handle wintry conditions.
Driving takes a lot of responsibility in the best conditions, and that responsibility just grows as the weather deteriorates. Overall, take your time and be careful – your loved ones and every other driver will thank you.