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Winter Driving Tips: 10 Ways to Get Home Safe

Even if you have years of experience driving in the wintertime, the slick conditions and low visibility caused by inclement weather can always be dangerous. Each year, 25 percent of weather-related car accidents happen on snowy, icy, or slushy pavement, and 15 percent happen during snowfall or sleet. Over 116,000 people are injured annually in these accidents, and the aftereffects of these injuries are a major cause of people entering physical therapy. But you can reduce your risk by taking the right precautions, driving at the right times, and knowing the right ways to handle your car. Below we've got 10 ways you can drive and maintain safely this winter!


Winter Safety Car Stranded in Snow

1. Prepare Your Car

Be sure to inspect your car before driving in winter weather. Here are some tips:

  • Have your snow tires on before winter begins, and make sure they're inflated and their tread is intact.
  • Always have about a half tank of gas in your car to prevent freezing.
  • Make sure your windshield wipers are in good working condition, and that you have enough wiper fluid.
  • Prepare for emergencies! Make sure your car is stocked with important supplies like warm clothing, a blanket, food, water, an emergency kit, traction mats, abrasive material (sand, salt, and cat litter), snow brush and ice scraper, snow shovel, jumper cables or a portable jump starter, warning flares or triangles, and your cell phone.

2. Warm Up Your Car in the Open

Make sure you warm up your vehicle in an open location, and never in your garage. Carbon monoxide can easily leak from your car and raise CO concentration so quickly that it can cause poisoning before you even realize there's a a problem.

3. Wear Your Seatbelt

This should be the first thing you do when you get in your car. Remember to put it on before you begin driving, and make sure that any passengers driving with you are securely buckled in as well.

Winter Driving Safety Driving Too Fast in Snow

4. Drive Steadily

It's easy to lose traction in winter, which happens when your tires lose their grip on the road. This most often happens from sudden or excessive movement: breaking too hard; steering too sharply; accelerating too quickly; and accelerating too much. Increase and reduce speed gradually, watch your speed, and always pump the brakes rather than slamming on them. As much as possible, avoid changing lanes.

5. Drive More Slowly

It's a great idea to drive below the posted limit in winter. Everything a car can do, from braking to turning, takes longer in slippery or icy conditions.

6. Learn Skid Control

If you lose traction on the snow or ice, know how to regain control of your car. Some tips on how to control your car following both a front-wheel and rear-wheel skid:

  1. Don't panic.
  2. Steer in the direction you want the front of the vehicle to go.
  3. Avoid slamming on the brakes. This will make the skid even more difficult to control.
  4. Wait until either the rear wheels stop skidding or the front wheels grip the road again, depending on the type of skid.
  5. When the car has regained traction, continue to steer in the direction of travel while reorienting the car to avoid a skid in the opposite direction.

Car Winter Windshield Wiper Check

7. Keep Your Distance

You should increase the recommended follow time of 3 to 4 seconds to 8 to 10 seconds to account for longer amount of time it takes to stop. Avoid tailgating and keep as far behind the next car as feasible, so that you can avoid fender benders.

8. Avoid Cruise Control

Constantly moderating your speed is crucial to safe winter driving. Cruise control may keep you accelerated beyond a safe level, meaning it will be harder to regain traction and keep control if your car if you start to skid or slide.

9. Get Enough Sleep

Studies have shown that driving fatigued results in similar impairments as being intoxicated: being awake for 18 hours is the equivalent of a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .05, while being awake for 24 hours is the equivalent of a .10 BAC, above the .08 baseline for legal drunkenness.

Your risk of a sleep-related car accident increases as the amount of sleep you get decreases. If you get 6 or 7 hours a night, you're twice as likely to crash as someone who gets the full 8 hours. But if you sleep for less than 5 hours, you increase your risk four to five times!

10. Stay Home if Necessary

Use your best judgment. Heed all travel warnings and if you are not comfortable driving, don't. If you can't stay home, find other methods of transportation to get to your destination. Avoid unnecessary travel, and limit the time spent driving in the dark.

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