How easily we forget how difficult driving can be once the first snowfall arrives. Even when a mere dusting of snow hits the roadways, some drivers seem to forget all of the road rules and act as if they had never driven defensively while other drivers are over confident and can cause an accident due to reckless driving. Whether you’re a longtime resident of the Northwest and are used to snowfalls in the mountains or you have recently moved to the flat, snowy plains of the Midwest, you will need to know how to drive safely in the winter time. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, each year approximately 225,000 vehicle accidents occur due to just snow/sleet. Additionally, an estimated 70,900 and 870 drivers and passengers are killed each year in winter weather related accidents. While weather is unpredictable and relentless at times, driving more carefully during winter conditions can reduce your risk of being involved in an accident.
Prepare For Winter Driving: Are you Ready?
Winter weather has the potential of striking at any time and sometimes at the most inconvenient moments, but it’s vital to your safety (and other motorists’) to make sure you and your vehicle are ready for winter. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has provided a checklist that will help you stay safer when a winter storm hits; according to OSHA, remember the three “Ps” (Prepare, Protect, and Prevent):
- PREPARE for the Trip: Winter weather is particularly hard on vehicles. Before you head out on the road, especially during winter, you want to make sure that your car is in good working condition. Is your battery fully charged? Are your fluids at good levels? Are your tires is good condition? Is your car stocked with an emergency kit and other items that can help you if you become stalled on the side of the road? Make sure you know how to drive defensively and always give yourself extra time. Remember! Ice roads can slow down stopping distances and your overall commuting time.
- PROTECT Yourself: It should go without saying that you should always buckle up. Failing to wear a seat belt or providing proper restraints for all passengers in your car is against the law. Always have the appropriate car seat for young children and infants and try to keep children passengers in the backseat, whenever possible.
- PREVENT Crashes on the Road: You can’t control the weather or the road conditions, but you can control the way YOU drive. Eliminate driving distractions such as texting, cellphone use, or eating while driving. Avoid reckless driving behaviors such as aggressive driving or drunk driving. Snow can often have a hypnotizing effect, especially in the evening and it’s easy to lose focus or feel tired. Fatigued or drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving, so stay alert and take a break when you start to lose focus on your driving.
Take Control During Winter Weather
When road conditions become hazardous during winter weather it’s best to stay off the roads, but if you must drive follow these safety precautions to avoid an accident due to winter weather:
- Snow and ice covered roads require slower speeds and slower acceleration. Even if you have an all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicle, you must drive for the weather conditions. Additionally, you are not immune to road condition issues such as spinouts, so don’t assume that your car is safer than everyone else’s.
- Always use your headlights. When snow is falling heavily, vehicles are hard to see; your headlights make you more visible to other motorists.
- Keep a safe following distance. Keeping at least one car length distance between you and the vehicle in front of you is vital, especially if the vehicle in front needs to brake suddenly.
- Always slow down when approaching intersections, bridges, off ramps, or areas on the road that are visibly icy. Even if you are familiar with roads, you should not drive at the same speed that you would during non-winter seasons.
- Never pass a snowplow until it is safe to do so. A collision with a snowplow is deadly.
Driving in a Winter Wonderland
Driving during the winter can be enjoyable, offering breath taking scenery. While winter driving can bring out anxiety in even the most experienced of drivers, it’s best to stay calm, aware of your surroundings and the condition of the road. Don’t let your journey through a Winter Wonderland turn deadly due to your unpreparedness and reckless driving behaviors during the winter months.