Slip and slide: Some tips for safe winter driving

For one thing, slow down and don’t be a jerk

Jens Nielsen

The first and most important thing to consider for winter driving is the condition of your vehicle. Make sure that it is serviced and ready for winter. Have your snow tires on and in good condition. Top up your windshield washer fluid and keep an extra supply in your vehicle.

Make sure you have warm clothes and footwear in your vehicle in case of breakdown in a remote spot. A shovel and some sand or salt may be a life saver if you were to get stuck outside of cell range. Snow brush and ice scrapper, jumper cables, emergency kit, and maybe some food are all good ideas.

Road conditions are much worse in the winter and so you need to adapt your driving habits. If road conditions are dangerous maybe you should consider making other travel arrangements or postponing your trip until it gets better.

Always make sure that your gas tank is at least half full during the winter months. This will help prevent gas line freeze up. You may also want to consider gas line anti-freeze if you’re concerned about it.

If you are an experienced winter driver these tips are a simple reminder. However, if you are new to winter driving and you take the following steps it will help keep you and your passengers safe during the winter.

Before you depart, make sure that your mirrors, windows, hood and top of your vehicle are free of snow and ice. This will ensure you have proper visibility and keep snow from blowing across your windshield.

Be sure that your lights are on, even during the day. This will help ensure other drivers can see you and you can see them.

Drive smoothly and slow. Know in advance that it is going to take longer to get where you are going. Leave a little earlier and avoid being in a stressed out rush. Speed is still the main cause of crashes in the winter.

Avoid quick acceleration and stops. It can cause you to lose control. Slow and steady wins the race in winter driving.

Don’t make any abrupt turns or stops when driving. Doing so will often cause your vehicle to lose control and skid. If you do start skidding, you actually need to go against all your natural instincts and turn into the skid. Doing this transfers your vehicle’s weight from the front to the rear and often helps vehicles to regain control. This is something you could practice in a large open area.

Don’t tailgate other drivers. In the summer the rule is to follow three to four seconds behind other drivers. In the winter on snowy roads this needs to be increased to about 10 seconds. Stopping takes much longer so you want to have enough room between you and the car in front of you to stop safely.

You want to brake gently before making turns to reduce your speed before entering the turn. Only after you have rounded the corner should you begin to gently accelerate again.

While driving up hills always continue until you reach the top if it’s safe to do so. Stopping in the middle of a slippery hill can be disastrous if you start to slide backwards and can’t stop your vehicle.

Never use cruise control during winter driving for the same reason you don’t use it on wet slippery roads. If your car hydroplanes it will try to accelerate and cause you to lose control.

Do not pump your brakes. Odds are your vehicle is equipped with an anti-lock braking system (ABS). Applying constant slow pressure will allow the system to do its job.

Pay extra attention to the road. Distracted driving is a serious danger during perfect road conditions. During the winter on snowy slippery roads it gets even worse. Driving 10 seconds behind the vehicle in front of you offers no benefit if you don’t have your eyes on the road.

Lastly, have patience and empathy with other drivers. If another vehicle is creeping along slow and holding up traffic, understand that the person driving is likely scared and trying to drive safe. They need your acceptance and patience not a blast from your horn. Driving erratically to get around them only agitates them further and can lead them to drive unexpectedly.

Being properly prepared, driving defensively, and respecting your fellow drivers should allow you to enjoy a safe and crash-free winter.

Catch Driving with Jens on CHON FM Thursdays at 8:15. If you have any questions or comments you can reach out to Jens Nielsen at drivingwithjens@gmail.com, Facebook or Twitter: @drivingwithjens.

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