Safe Winter Driving
As winter weather creates poor driving conditions, improved visibility on the road is an important factor to enhance driver safety.
Poor visibility, especially at night, is a serious driving hazard. According to the National Safety Council, poor visibility is cited as a factor in an estimated 2 million accidents, 23,000 fatal crashes and 2,300 pedestrian deaths every year in the United States.
Automotive headlights are key part of safe winter driving; they provide lighting for better peripheral vision and viewing of the road ahead. Preparing your vehicle for winter is critical for safe driving throughout the season. It’s important to make sure headlights are a part of seasonal maintenance.
For drivers of any age, follow these National Safety Council recommended tips to help maintain safety and improve visibility on the road this winter:
Winterize your vehicle – Change the engine lubricant to synthetic oil, change to winter wiper blades, flush your cooling system with fresh coolant/antifreeze, fill the washer fluid reservoir with de-icier washer fluid and carry an emergency safety kit. See the below list for some of your vehicle preparation winter safety checks:
Winter time is the harshest season for vehicles. Prepare your vehicle for winter by scheduling a complete maintenance check in the fall.
Battery: Cold weather starts require a battery that is fully charged. Recharge or replace weak batteries. Have your charging system checked, too.
Ignition system: Damaged ignition wires or a cracked distributor cap may cause a sudden breakdown.
Lights: Regularly check that all lights are functioning properly and that headlights are properly aimed.
Brakes: Brakes should be checked and, if needed, serviced to ensure even braking.
Tires: The traction between the tires and the road surface determines how well your vehicle starts, turns and stops. Make certain your snow tires or all-season radials are properly inflated and in good condition. Ensure all four tires have the same tread pattern for even traction.
Exhaust system: Have the exhaust system fully checked for leaks that could send carbon monoxide into your vehicle.
Heating and cooling system: Check your radiator and hoses for cracks and leaks. Make sure the radiator cap, water pump and thermostat work properly. Test the strength of the anti-freeze, and test the functioning of the heater and defroster.
Windshield: Make sure wipers are in good condition and fill up on winter washer fluid.
- Drive with your lights on – If daytime visibility is limited, turn on your headlights to be seen by other drivers. When traveling in snowy weather, remember to brush off your taillights, turn signals and headlamps.
- Change headlights in pairs before they burn out – Most headlights dim up to 20 percent over time so evaluate yours every year for optimum performance. The end of daylight savings time is a perfect yearly reminder to check them.
- Upgrade to high performance halogen lighting – Studies have shown that whiter, brighter halogen lighting can improve reaction time, increase nighttime visibility and provide better roadside viewing.
- Clear your windows- Make sure you windows are defrosted and clear of snow and ice before you venture out on the roadways.
- Check headlight alignment – Misaligned headlights can be distracting and dangerous. Ask your auto service technician to align them for you.
- Clean headlight lenses regularly – Wash headlight lenses when you wash your windshield. You’ll see better at night and in poor weather conditions.
- Make sure all vehicle lights are working – Have a friend turn on your headlights and signal lights while you walk around the outside of your vehicle.
- Check your tire pressure regularly – Whether you park inside or outside, you will lose a pound of tire pressure for every 10 degrees of outside temperature change.
- Adjust your speed – By decreasing your speed, you allow yourself more time to respond in bad weather.
- Brake carefully – When roads are slippery, brake in a straight line before a curve in the road. Lift your foot from the brake before you steer into a corner. This allows you to steer and not slide through the corner. Don’t accelerate away from the corner until the steering wheel is again straight.
Winter Car Survival Kit items:
Sand, salt or kitty litter
Cloth or roll of paper towels
Warning light or road flares
Extra clothing and footwear
Emergency food pack
Plateau Cell phone w/battery charger
Ice scraper and brush
Water-proof matches or lighter(Save a small baggy of dryer lint it makes a great fire starter)
A ‘survival’ candle in a deep can (to warm hands, heat a drink or use as an emergency light)
Methyl hydrate (for fuel line and windshield de -icing)
The following items should be kept in the cab of your truck or car:
Flashlight with extra batteries
Blanket (special ‘survival’ blankets are best)/sleeping bags
Non-perishable, high energy foods(nuts, peanut butter, etc….)
Prevent Your Car Skidding – How To Cope with A Skid
Skidding is more likely to occur when there is ice, snow or water on the road. However it is important to remember that most skidding is a result of bad driving. A car will only skid if it is being driven at an inappropriate speed or if provoked to do so by aggressive steering, braking or acceleration.
To prevent skidding you should never ask your car to do more than it can do with the grip available. As a result, in poor weather conditions you should:
Increase your stopping distance, so if the vehicle in front stops unexpectedly you have enough space to brake to a stop without skidding.
Take extra care when approaching a bend.
Be gentle and progressive when steering, accelerating and braking.
Your car is more likely to skid when the road is icy or covered in snow. In such conditions to avoid skidding you should slow right down. You should also steer and brake very gently. Your stopping distance should also be increased by up to ten times greater than in normal conditions.
When driving in winter, and especially on a winters evening when the sky is clear you should look out for ice forming on the road. For early warning signs look to see if ice is forming on the windows of parked cars.
You should be extra careful when travelling on an exposed road such as a motorway bridge. Ice will often form here first. If your car has an outside temperature meter then keep a close eye on it.
In freezing conditions beware of rain. This can form black ice, which lies invisible on the road. Black ice isn’t actually black it is transparent. Hence it’s notoriety as a driver hazard.
In icy conditions your steering may start to feel lighter. Tire noise may also decrease. If this happens then you are likely to be driving on ice. To prevent a dangerous skid lift your foot gently off the accelerator. This will allow your car to slow smoothly and gently. If you need to continue driving then do so slowly using a high gear. This will help you avoid hard acceleration, which could spin the wheels.
Accelerating too hard can also cause skidding. If you accelerate too hard when moving off on a slippery road then the driven wheels will spin without propelling the car forward. In icy conditions some wheel spin may be inevitable. To minimize the spin try engaging a higher gear.
Braking hard on a slippery road can also cause your car to skid. Your wheels can lock up and you will continue onwards with little or no braking effect. The locked wheels will also prevent you from steering. If this happens you should release the brake pedal to free the wheels then reapply the brake less harshly. If your car has ABS fitted then your wheels won’t lock. However don’t think ABS eases all problems when driving on a slippery road. It doesn’t.
On a slippery road if you approach a corner too quickly there is a good possibility that your car will skid. This is even more likely if you also brake harshly whilst taking the corner. You turn the steering wheel to corner but there is no response and the car continues on ahead. This is a classic front wheel skid. If this happens then remove your foot from the accelerator. This throws the weight balance of the car forwards and helps the tires find grip. Do not use the brake. As the tires find grip carefully steer the car into the direction of the skid. For example if the rear of the car skids to the left, steer quickly and smoothly to the left.
If you get stuck…
- Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
- Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
- Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out.
- Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.
- Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.
- Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner’s manual first — it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you’re in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.
If You Become Stranded…
- Do not leave your car unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to possible help, and are certain you will improve your situation.
- To attract attention, light two flares and place one at each end of the car a safe distance away. Hang a brightly colored cloth from your antenna.
- If you are sure the car’s exhaust pipe is not blocked, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so depending upon the amount of gas in the tank.
- To protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia use the woolen items and blankets to keep warm.
- Keep at least one window open slightly. Heavy snow and ice can seal a car shut.
- Eat a hard candy to keep your mouth moist.
Lastly, if you do travel find out the weather conditions of the interstates and roads you will be traveling on. You can call for NM Road Conditions call 1-800-432-4269, CO Road Conditions 1-303-639-1111 or TX Road Conditions call 1-800-452-9292.
Don’t be a traffic accident, hazard, statistic or fatality this holiday season. Take a few extra minutes enjoy the drive, be defensive and arrive safely to celebrate this holiday season.
I’m on vacation this week so the blog posts this week comes to us courtesy of Ken Oswald
Safety and Security Manager for Plateau