Are You Ready for Winter Driving?

Brr! It's cold out there! As temperatures drop, risk increases every time you step foot behind the wheel. While it may be a Winter Wonderland outside, cold, snowy, icy weather can make for treacherous driving when running even simple errands.

How do you cope with winter driving all season long?

Thankfully, you've come to the right place. It's more than possible to drive safely in winter weather - as long as you prepare yourself in advance and know full-well what you're getting into.

From 2008 to 2009, icy roads were responsible for a minimum of

477 DEATHS

This compares to 458 icy road fatalities in the 2009 to 2010 winter season.

As you can see in the chart below, certain areas of the country are more susceptible to icy road fatalities, depending on winter weather conditions:

High Risk moderate Risk slight Risk low Risk negligible Risk

Areas with negligible risk for icy driving conditions include South Texas, Florida, and some parts of California.

High-risk areas of the country for winter driving include the Midwest and Northeast.

Based on fatal accident reports during the 2008-2010 winter seasons
safe Winter Driving

If you live in a high-risk winter driving zone, it's even more important to understand the basics of safe winter driving. Even if you live in an area with negligible risk, it still helps to be prepared for any winter driving condition you may encounter. Some personal injury attorneys assert that car accident injuries may be even more prevalent in poor weather conditions in low risk states compared to "wintry" Northern states.

Drivers that are unaccustomed to winter driving may have a harder time controlling their vehicle when traveling in wintry states or in rare instances of freezing rain in their home state. For example, drivers in Southern states may not have on-the-road ice or snow driving experience that provides the opportunity to practice safe winter driving techniques. Drivers that have driven rarely or have never driven in snow or ice may not know that it's best to stay off the road in extreme winter driving conditions, i.e. a snowstorm or ice storm. Drivers in all climates need to grasp the importance of safe winter driving and prepare their vehicles accordingly before cold weather hits.

Winter Driving
You can start your next winter driving journey off right by becoming well-acquainted with the most dangerous driving times on the road. Even if you are fully confident in your skill as a driver, you can't vouch for the driver in the lane next to you. What's more, winter driving conditions are entirely unpredictable and could challenge your skill level as an experienced driver.
It always pays to be prepared for winter driving conditions

the most dangerous times to drive are

5 PM-7 PM

NHTSA and AAA statistics indicate that the most dangerous time of day to drive is from 5 PM to 7 PM. This is a high-traffic time considered rush-hour with major congestion on most public roadways. The average commuter is also tired after a long day of work and may be less likely to pay attention behind the wheel.

Saturdays

The most dangerous day of the week to drive is on a Saturday. Saturday accidents are responsible for almost twice the amount of fatalities compared to the average weekday.

first day of a snowstorm

While you may think that a winter month represents the most dangerous month to drive out of the year, August holds the high-risk title for drivers. The greatest amount of fatal accidents occur on US roadways in this month.

holidays

But, of course, we can't overlook the perils of driving during the holiday season. As families pack into their trusty sedans and hit the road to visit grandparents, aunts, and uncles, dangerous winter weather, especially after the first snowstorm of the season, may prove hazardous starting on Thanksgiving weekend.2 If you're driving to visit family around the holidays, it's critical to drive cautiously, remain alert, and watch for changing road conditions.

Heartbreaking news

One heartbreaking story that falls within the dangerous driving window described above took the lives of four college students in 2012. Four students, ages 18 to 19, were traveling back from North Dakota State University to Minnesota to visit family over a holiday weekend during a snowstorm.

The four students were killed when their car crossed a median and was broadsided by an SUV just after 3 PM on a Monday afternoon. Factors that contributed to the crash included slushy, slippery roads, as well as fresh snowfall during the drive. All four of the students were wearing seatbelts during the crash that resulted in their untimely death. Police officers at the scene cautioned drivers in similar conditions to travel slowly and carefully and to pay special attention when driving in winter weather. Sadly, there are hundreds of stories similar to the scenario described above that have claimed the lives of innocent drivers and passengers on snowy, icy roads. To protect you and your family the next time you set out on a winter drive, it's imperative to prepare your vehicle in advance and understand how to safely navigate dangerous roadways.

You can start by learning how to winterize your vehicle to provide more control on frosty roads

What Does It Mean to Winterize Your Vehicle?

A number of auto mechanics name winter a top enemy of your car. Not only do lower temperatures affect road conditions, but they also affect your vehicle's performance on that same unsafe road. It's a double whammy.

The best safety precaution you can take is to perform preventative maintenance on your car far before cold weather hits.

A vehicle checkup in the fall is an important habit to make so that you don't get stranded on the side of the road when your car breaks down in a winter storm. You can take your car into a trusted mechanic or perform preventative maintenance yourself, if you feel confident in your ability.

Winterizing vehicle preventative maintenance may include

Check performance of 4WD system, if applicable. 4WD is needed for traction on icy roads, though it is rarely used in warmer weather. Ensure that your 4WD system fully engages and disengages without any irregularity or unfamiliar noises in the drivetrain. Don't wait until you're on the road, driving in snow, to check your 4WD.

Check oil levels.
In some cases, your mechanic may recommend lower viscosity engine oil in colder weather. This simply means that engine oil will be thinner in cold temperatures to allow it to run smoothly; typical engine oil that thickens in cold weather may not properly lubricate an engine. All-weather engine oil recommendations will be noted in your vehicle owner's manual.

Check belts and hoses.
This routine maintenance check can be performed yourself or by your mechanic. Cold weather can cause wear and tear on belts and hoses, although belts and hoses should last longer in newer vehicles.

Check wipers and wiper fluid.
This is a preventative maintenance check that you don't want to overlook before you head out on your first winter trip. Windshield wiper blades should be changed yearly; wiper fluid can be topped off with all-season de-icing fluid to resist snow, sleet, and rain on your windshield to improve visibility.

Check your car battery.
A car battery must be in top working condition before winter hits so that you don't get stuck on the side of the road. Take the time to inspect battery cables for breaks and cracks, as well as loose connections. Low battery fluid can be refilled with distilled water. Check the battery charge when the engine is off. Many batteries come with a built-in hydrometer to reflect remaining voltage; 12.6-12.8 V indicates a full charge.

Your hard work isn't done just yet. Here's a helpful vehicle inspection checklist that you can use as your winterizing go-to:

Air filter Battery Distributor Engine Coolant Engine Oil Consider to a thinner oil-check your manual or ask your vehicle’s manufacturer Fan Belts
Antifreeze Brakes Emission Filter Fuel Filter
Gas Pedal Ignition Spark Plugs Tires Tread, air, sidewall wear, no holes, etc. Tires Switch to snow tires if you don’t have all-season tires Windshield Fluid-antifreeze solution Wiring
Hoses PVC Valve
REMEMBER

If you don't feel confident in your ability to thoroughly check and winterize your vehicle, almost any auto repair shop will be happy to do it for you. Most mechanics advertise "winterizing specials" to offer a full vehicle check at a discounted price. A winterizing package may include checking headlights, taillights, wiper blades, brakes, battery and charging system, hoses and belts, radiator cap, oil, cooling system, tires, and transmission fluid.

Speaking of tires, we can't forget about snow tires when discussing the complete winterizing of your vehicle

DMV.org recommends putting the right snow tires on your car or truck before you anticipate driving in snow for a season. Most vehicle manufacturers advise swapping all four tires for snow tires in the winter months. If you happen to live in a rural area, especially with steep roads and driveways, snow tires with studs are highly recommended. Other drivers opt for all-season tires from the get-go that can be driven year-round throughout summer and winter. If you currently have all-season tires on your vehicle, you won't need to make the switch to snow tires come winter. Nonetheless, snow tires may still be your best bet in especially icy or snowy driving conditions.

Once you have your vehicle in tiptop shape for winter driving, don't forget to put together a roadside emergency kit

A roadside emergency kit can be kept in your trunk at all times and may consist of: Spare tire
(check to confirm it's in good condition)
Road flares Heavy blankets Winter boots Engine oil Windshield washer fluid Engine coolant Flashlight

If you're traveling in a rural area, it's also recommended to include water and non-perishable food in your roadside emergency kit. If the worst was to happen, and your vehicle broke down on the side of the road, you could rest assured that you had enough provisions to last you several hours until help arrived.

keep tools in your car Keep the following in your car at all times, just in case

Jumper cables Properly inflated
spare tire
Wheel wrench Tripod-type jack Shovel Bag of salt or
cat litter
Tow and tire chains Tool kit Heavy-duty
gloves

10 Common Winter Driving Myths BUSTED!

How much do you know about safe winter driving? Let's test your knowledge with the 10 most-common winter driving myths BUSTED:

1

You should always drive with the flow of traffic.
Nope. In treacherous winter driving conditions, it's critical to drive within your comfort zone, using your personal judgment. There are a number of cocky drivers out there that may choose to speed, even on ice; it would be unwise to follow their example to keep up with traffic flow.

Lower tire pressure will offer better traction on icy roads
This may be partially true, but experts recommend keeping your tires filled properly to avoid a blowout. Lowering your tire pressure will not guarantee better traction; using snow tires is a more viable option to improve traction on the road.

2 3

You should only get two snow tires to save money.
Many drivers with rear or front-wheel drive swear by using only two snow tires on driver-side wheels. However, this is a dangerous practice indeed. Using two instead of four snow tires can partially improve traction in snowy weather but may dangerously imbalance your car when you turn or stop.

Snow tires are only needed outside of the city.
Even though snowplows are likely to clear up city streets and suburban neighborhoods quickly, snow tires will still provide a better grip when temperatures dip below freezing. Snow tire grip in and out of the city will improve control on wet and dry pavement, as well as slushy, icy, and snowy surfaces.

4 5

Driving an All Wheel Drive (AWD) vehicle is better than a two-wheel-drive vehicle in snow
This is a common winter driving misconception that is important to clear up. AWD technology doesn't offer better road grip than two-wheel-drive technology; it only provides better acceleration. In some cases, an AWD vehicle may give a driver false confidence and could increase the risk of a winter driving accident.

If you hit a patch of ice, you should steer into the skid
This may hold true for a rear-wheel drive vehicle, but if your car is front-wheel drive, it's best to steer in the direction you want your car to move when skidding on ice. If your vehicle loses control, focus on the road ahead and gently press the gas if you have anti-lock brakes; drivers without anti-lock brakes are recommended to pump the brakes while steering back on course.

6 7

You should always pump the brakes to prevent a skid.
Just as we described above, pumping the brakes is only relevant in vehicles without anti-lock brakes. Most modern cars designed with anti-lock brakes will stop best on ice by holding down the brake pedal consistently until you come to a full stop.

You must let your vehicle warm up before driving in cold weather
Letting your car idle to warm up will only waste gas and exacerbate wear and tear on your vehicle. Newer cars don't need to be warmed up to perform safely on the road, compared to cars from decades past. Today's vehicles are made to warm up better and faster and are road-ready right away. A 15 second warm-up time is more than enough on a cold day.

8 9

If you get stuck, you should use salt to stop wheels from spinning
Today, most auto experts recommend using a granulated substance like sand or kitty litter to provide wheel traction to get your car out of a snow bank. It's best to add a bag of sand to your roadside emergency kit for this purpose. If you get stuck, make sure to check that your tailpipe is clear before pulling out of a snow bank; carbon monoxide can quickly back up into a vehicle and can be fatal.

You should keep extra weight in your trunk to prevent a spinout.
Most modern cars today are either rear-wheel or front-wheel drive, making this advice irrelevant. In fact, if you purposely weigh down your trunk in the hopes of improving traction, it may throw off your vehicle's balance and make you even more likely to lose control.

10

DUI’s During the Holiday Season

One major winter driving hazard that is the easiest to prevent is none other than a DUI.

Unfortunately, DUIs tend to escalate around the holidays. The NHTSA estimates that 45 fatalities occur per day on average around Christmas time in alcohol-related crashes. This number jumps to 54 fatalities a day on New Year's Eve.

Even if you take care not to drink and drive, winter driving conditions coupled with other drunk drivers on the road can prove deadly. It's no wonder that many traffic officials call December "the booziest month of the year." You can do your part to avoid a senseless DUI accident by committing to never drink and drive, especially in bad weather conditions. But as we all know, if you're having a good time celebrating the holidays with the ones you love, judgment is likely to go out the window.

Alcohol-Related Highway Death

Percentage of highway deaths that are alcohol related

37 % Christmas holiday
58 % New Year’s holiday
31 % The rest of the year

You can put these helpful tips into practice when spending the holidays with friends and family to stop a dangerous drunk driving accident before it happens:

Assign a designated driver, even when traveling short distances Call a cab if a driving situation appears unsafe Hide a friend or family member's keys if they attempt to drink and drive. Stop serving alcohol to friends and family several hours before a party is over. Ask guests to stay over or arrange for alternate transportation if they've had too much to drink.

10 Essential Tips for Safe Winter Driving

Taking safety precautions when driving in winter weather can literally be a matter of life and death. Here are 10 tips to take to heart to ensure safe travels this winter:
Never compromise visibility If snow is too heavy to see out of the windshield, pull over until driving conditions are safer. Keep an eye on ice If you see ice on your windshield, then there will be ice on the road. Check the temperature before you drive When temperatures drop below freezing (32°F), roadways may have patches of visible or black ice. Check road conditions If you plan to venture out in a particularly bad winter storm, check for road closures and weather conditions on your intended route. Stay in communication While it isn't recommended to talk on your phone or text while driving, let family members know where you are going and when you arrive when driving in the winter. Avoid drowsiness Try not to eat a heavy meal or drink an alcoholic drink before driving. Learn how to steer in a skid Use the advice above to drive in the direction you want to go and remain calm if your vehicle spins on ice. Maintain your distance Following closely is never recommended, especially in bad weather; take care to stay away from large vehicles, like semi-trucks. Keep up with routine maintenance It's especially important to check out any leaks or strange noises before driving your car in winter weather. Stay inside when you can With winter driving, it's always better safe than sorry; try to put off running errands in bad weather if you don't need to drive.

Truckers that drive for a living can take special winter driving precautions with these BONUS tips:

Stock up on diesel additive Professional drivers know that diesel fuel gels in cold weather; add an anti-gel additive to your tank before you fuel up to keep your truck running smoothly.
Watch other trucks on the road If trucks have pulled over on the side of the road to wait out a storm, take their cue and head for safety.
Don't drive beyond your skill level. New truck drivers are urged to pull over in unsafe driving conditions and radio for help.
Always carry extra supplies with you Keep an emergency roadside kit stocked with food and water on hand in case you need to wait for backup in a rest stop.

To make your next winter drive as safe as possible, you also have the option to "soup up" your vehicle with tech-savvy winter driving features.

Potential vehicle upgrades to improve winter driving safety include rain-sensing windshield wipers, steering-wheel mounted driver controls, Bluetooth phone communication, automatic vehicle climate controls, automatic headlights, and vehicle voice commands. These features are designed to make winter driving more convenient, intuitive, and, ultimately, stress-free.

No matter how you decide to approach winter driving, one thing's for certain: Taking bad weather driving precautions will ensure that you and your family arrive safely at your destination. Winter driving is a reality for one long season of the year. When you're well-prepared for a drive on snowy, icy roads, your confidence will increase to help you handle any worst-case winter driving scenario.
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