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17 Safety Tips for Driving in Winter

Satyajeet Vispute
It is no secret that many roads and highways turn treacherous during the winter season. Statistics show that the number of road accidents always increases when the snow begins to fall. So in the interest of safety, we list out a few tips to help you keep yourself and your family safe while driving in winter.

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Did You Know?

More than 70% of the roads in the U.S. are located in regions that receive more than 5 inches of snow on average each year.
Lady winter comes in mysteriously each year. As you slumber comfortably on the last night of summer, in the dark she sneaks in quietly, and covers the whole neighborhood beneath layers and layers of knee-deep snow.
When you wake up the next morning, you find yourself shivering, and not just because of the sudden fall in temperature, but also at the thought of having to drive down that slick, sleet-covered road to your workplace!
Winter driving can certainly be a perilous affair, especially if one is unprepared. Each year, as the mercury dips, the rate of road accidents begins to soar.

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In the U.S. alone, over 116,800 people are injured annually due to vehicle crashes on slushy, ice-covered surfaces. So, it is only natural if one feels a certain apprehension regarding winter driving.
However, there are measures that you can adopt in order to avoid becoming another number on an accident list. The following are a few useful tips to help you take on the challenge of winter driving.

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Winter Driving Safety Tips

Forget Fast and Furious - Drive Slow and Serious
The first and perhaps most important tip for safe winter driving is to completely alter your regular driving style. You have to realize that summer is over, and so are your speeding days.
The sleet and snow cover on the road makes it so slick that your vehicle's tires are barely able to keep a grip onto it. In such a condition, if you spontaneously accelerate or brake, the tires are likely to skid, and you are bound to lose control of your vehicle.
Accelerating/braking gently and driving at slow speeds allows you to take proper control of the limited road grip, and thereby keep the vehicle under your control. An important thing to remember is that, the safe stopping distances while driving in a slow and controlled manner on the snow can be up to 10 times more than those in dry conditions.
Hence, you must always try to maintain an appropriate distance between your vehicle and the one that is ahead of you. Apart from that, maneuvers such as turning at a corner, driving uphill/downhill, etc., should all be performed at a slow, constant speed, and in a controlled manner.
Make it a Mission to Check Your Vehicle's Condition
Getting your vehicle serviced regularly is beneficial, no matter what the season is.
However it becomes all the more important during winter. An ill-maintained vehicle is like a coffin on wheels. You run the risk of vehicle breakdown, or even worse being stranded. So as soon as winter season arrives, the first and foremost thing to do would be to send your vehicle off for servicing.
You must get the wheel alignment, brakes, power steering, air conditioning, along with all the vehicle's electronics thoroughly checked and repaired if necessary. All engine fluids, such as motor oil, coolant, brake fluid, etc., need to maintained at proper levels. Other small but important checks include the following:
a) Checking your windshield washer reservoir is full.

b) Making sure the rear-window defroster is working.

c) Checking the heating system of the vehicle.

d) Keeping the gas tank almost full.

e) Checking the headlights, emergency lights, and other electrics of the car.

f) Maintaining the vehicle's battery.

g) Restocking (if necessary) the emergency kit in the vehicle.
It is advisable to carry additional supplies such as blankets, packaged food, and water in your vehicle. Small steps such as these can prove to be of great importance in case you get stranded. These can help you survive until help arrives.
Unfreeze the Pump to Cool the Engine
One of the greatest dangers of winter driving is possibility of engine overheating. That's right. Very low temperatures can cause the engine coolant to freeze, preventing pump from being able to circulate it through the engine.
As a result, it may happen that your engine block gets overheated and ceases to work. Repairing it will not only cost you a pretty penny, but the breakdown may occur in a secluded part of the roadway, leaving you stuck and helpless. It is best to avoid such situation.
A clear warning bell is when the vehicle makes a sharp, squealing noise at a cold start-up. It indicates that the water in the pump is frozen. The best thing to do then is to turn off the engine immediately to prevent any serious damage to the engine.
While driving, one must keep a check on the engine heat level. If the temperature needle hits the red line within a few miles from starting, it is a tell-tale sign that the radiator is frozen and unable to perform. The only option that remains then is to turn off the engine and let the radiator thaw, preferably in a heated garage.
Nowadays, antifreeze coolants are used in most vehicles. These are added as a 50-50 mix of antifreeze fluid and water to the engine's cooling system. This mix is known to have a very low freezing point, and so, is assured of working reliably even in very cold conditions. Antifreeze coolants don't cost much, and are definitely a must-have for winter driving.
Avoid the Menace of Improper Battery Maintenance
Electric energy from the battery can literally be a life-saver in several critical situations that may arise while driving in winter. Hence, the car's battery must be duly taken car of and maintained. The following are a few indications on how to keep it in top condition:
Heater, headlights, wipers, etc., put a lot of load on the vehicle's battery. Hence, before starting a vehicle, all these must be turned off to avoid overloading the battery.
During cold-starts, the engine starter should be operated in short bursts of 3 seconds. Also, after a couple of continuous attempts, if the engine still doesn't start, then a complete one minute interval should be maintained before turning the starter again, to give room for the battery to recover.
High-power consuming electrics, such as the heater or climate control systems shouldn't be used for any longer than necessary. This will help conserve the battery's charge.
If the vehicle has been kept idle for more than 2 days, overnight trickle charging should be done to help restore its power.
Most vehicle batteries perform reliably for a period of 5 years, after which they need to be changed. Make sure you get your vehicle's battery replaced in case it has exceeded that limit.
Turn Down the Lights to Avoid Frostbites
One of the most harrowing experiences of winter driving is that of being stranded in the middle of nowhere.
I am sure you must have all heard the frightening stories and tales relayed by those that have been through such situations, but still think that it couldn't possibly happen to you. Well, we all hope that it doesn't, but still, it can't really hurt to be prepared!
So what is the best thing to do when you are stranded or stuck? You must stay inside the vehicle and wait for help to arrive. It is important then to turn off the headlights and other unnecessary electronic equipment that consumes battery power. Don't turn off the engine though. It must be kept idling, as it charges the battery. This will allow you to keep the heating system on, and remain warm until help arrives.
A Better Vision for This Winter Season
During snowfall, it is important that you do not attempt to drive by peering through a small clearing on your vehicle's windshield, while the rest of it is covered in a blanket of white!
Perfect visibility is very necessary to avoid accidents, so be sure to scoop away all the snow that might have fallen on the windshield before you turn on the ignition. Also remember to brush away the snow from your vehicle's rooftop, as it might slide down onto the windshield while you are driving.
The wipers need to be checked, and the washing fluid levels need to be maintained. Adding an appropriate anti-freezing solution to the washing solution can go a long way in preventing the wiper from sticking onto the windshield.
When parking in open spaces, it is advisable to turn off the wiper system before you turn off the engine. This will prevent the wiper's motor from being damaged at the time of start-up, in case the blades stick to the windshield.
The air-conditioner mode settings should be adjusted so that condensation on the windshield and rear screen are quickly removed, and full and clear visibility is achieved. Lastly, one must wear appropriate sun-goggles to protect the eyes from the glare of the sun rays reflecting on the snow.
Check the Tires or the Consequences Will be Dire
While driving in winter, there is a very fine line between being in control of the vehicle and no control.
This line is decided by the traction or grip that your vehicle's tires have on the road. All-season tires perform reasonably well even in snowy conditions. However, it is best to switch over to specially designed winter tires.
These tires usually have more cuts and slots in them, which allows them to better disperse the water and snow that is trapped beneath them. Also, their rubber is of a different composition, which resists hardening in low temperatures, and thus maintain good traction.
In isolated areas which receive heavy snowfall and where the roads are not cleared, snow chains may need to be used. Reducing tire air-pressure can help in increasing traction. However, if the pressure is made too low, the vehicle is likely to become unstable. Hence, if you are not sure what you are doing, it is best to avoid reducing tire air-pressure altogether.
Get Up Early and Plan Clearly
It is said that the early bird catches the worm. This is never truer than in the winter season.
Getting up early allows you to prepare your vehicle for a journey. You can clear the snow off it, perform all the checks, and even unfreeze a frozen lock, if needed. Rising early also gives you the opportunity to plan your route.
You can check the weather reports and take stock of the traffic conditions across various routes. This permits you to decide on an alternate route that can save a lot of those precious minutes before office-time.
However, do remember that during winter, being safe must be given a higher priority than being on time. As such, even if unforeseen conditions make you late, you must still drive slowly and carefully.
Don't Drink and Drive if You Want to Survive
If you don't want to sleep with the fish in the sea this winter season, you must avoid drinking like one.
Driving after drinking isn't just dangerous, it's an outright crime. Drunk people can barely keep their vehicle under control during normal situations, let alone on snow. Therefore, for your own safety, and that of others on the road, do not, at any cost, drink and drive.
Get the Right Accessories
One thing to remember in the winter season is to always keep yourself warm during journeys. Remember to accessorize well, regardless of how good your vehicle's heating system performs.
Items such as warm coats, jackets, woolen socks, water and snow repellent boots, winter driving gloves, snow caps, etc., can literally make all the difference between life and death in critical situations.
Having a snow shovel in the trunk can be a very good idea too. If your vehicle gets stuck on a patch covered with heavy snow, it can help you shovel it away. Also, an old rug or sack can prove to be very handy in such situations. It can be spread over the snow to provide traction, and then driven over to get the vehicle moving again.
Another good accessory, especially for rear-wheel drive cars, is a weighted sand bag. This can increase the traction of the wheels, allowing for better grip on snow covered roads. However, do not go overboard with the weight, as too much of it can destabilize the vehicle and seriously affect its maneuverability.
Effective Communication Can Bring You Salvation
When stranded in the snow, a reliable communication system can be a life-saver. So always remember to charge your cell phone's battery to full before you head out. Also note that having Internet-enabled devices can help you better assess the situation, and also stay in touch.
A good GPS is another important equipment that can make all the difference during winter drives. It can tell you your location, and also show you alternate routes that you can take to avoid getting stuck. In case you do get stranded, it may even help you find an exit route.
Follow All Traffic Rules
Traffic rules have been laid out for the safety of the public. In winter, the treacherous conditions make being safe all the more difficult.
Hence, especially during winter, one must strictly adhere to each and every traffic rule. Halting at stop signs, avoiding overtaking at corners, and using all the road signs and signals, are just a few of the things that can keep the already bad driving situation during winter from turning into a total nightmare.

Special Tips for Truck and Bus Drivers

  • The best piece of advice for them would be to keep constant communication with veteran truck drivers over their CB radio. They can help them in difficult situations, and provide valuable advise that can literally save lives.
Drivers of large vehicles, such as trucks and buses, apart from all the tips mentioned earlier, need to keep a few additional things in mind while plowing through the snow:
  • The stopping time of these big vehicles is most affected owing to their large size and heavier weight. As such, drivers need to be extra careful, and keep more of a safe distance between their vehicle and the one that is ahead of them.
  • While going uphill or downhill on snow-covered roads, drivers must shift to lower gears, and try to maintain a constant speed, taking full advantage of the engine-braking. They must also avoid stopping while going uphill, as restarting again may cause the tires to skid.
  • For commercial vehicle drivers, winter roads can be particularly dangerous, as these vehicles often carry very large loads. At the same time, they are forced to stick to their tight pickup and delivery schedule.
A soldier is always prepared for the worst. During winters, you are a soldier, assigned with the challenge of taking on those precarious winter roads. Modern vehicles come reloaded with a lot of equipment and technologies to aid you in this endeavor. But still, it is better to follow these tips and be prepared for any situation. Drive carefully, stay safe!