Winter Driving Safety Tips

Driving during winter weather presents unique challenges and can be extremely dangerous. According to the Federal Highway Administration, "Over 1,300 people are killed and more than 116,800 people are injured in vehicle crashes on snowy, slushy or icy pavement annually." The FHA also reports that "Every year, nearly 900 people are killed and nearly 76,000 people are injured in vehicle crashes during snowfall or sleet." So how do you keep your family safe while navigating your vehicle through the ice and snow this winter?

Before the season is in full swing, make sure your car is prepared for colder weather by having it inspected by a reputable mechanic. Additionally, check your owner's manual for winterizing recommendations for your specific vehicle. Make sure you have winter tires, (chains if you live in areas where they are recommended), winter wipers, extra windshield wiper fluid, and a basic emergency kit in case you become stranded in cold weather.

Always keep your gas tank at least half full during winter months in case you become stranded. Running the engine for just 10 minutes every hour should help keep occupants of your vehicle warm. (REMEMBER: If you are running the engine to keep warm, make sure no snow or ice is blocking your exhaust pipe. Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur if there is an obstruction and can be deadly. NEVER run a car engine inside a closed garage or other enclosed space).

Before driving, make sure to remove ice and snow from all windows, mirrors, lights, reflectors, hood, roof and trunk. This is important for visibility, but also ensures that large chunks of ice and snow do not fly off of your car, causing a problem for other drivers. Check local weather for road conditions and plan your route accordingly. Leave plenty of time to get to your destination safely. SLOW DOWN. Speed limits are for dry roads. When ice or snow is present, every driving maneuver takes longer. Give yourself more time to turn, stop, accelerate and slow down. Start slowing down for a stop light, for example, sooner than you would on clear, dry roads. To regain traction and avoid skidding, apply the gas slowly to accelerate. Look further ahead than you normally do to help spot potential dangerous road conditions ahead, giving you more time to stop or avoid them. Drive with your headlights on, and avoid using cruise control on roads that are wet, icy or covered in snow. Remember that bridges and overpasses may freeze and become slippery before regular roads do. Use caution when driving over these.

Know how to use your brakes. Vehicles with anti-lock brakes operate much differently from those that do not have anti-lock brakes. Consult your vehicle's owner's manual for instructions on how to brake properly if your vehicle should start to skid. Brake early. Brake correctly. Sudden maneuvers such as hard braking, quick turns of the steering wheel, sudden acceleration, or shifting a manual transmission, can upset a vehicle's dynamics when it's taking a turn. In slick conditions, this can cause you to lose control of your vehicle. If you start sliding, gently let off the accelerator and turn your wheels in the direction that the rear of your car is sliding. It helps to look with your eyes where you want the car to go, and turn the steering wheel in that direction. If you end up over correcting, (meaning you steered too far, causing the car to slide in the other direction) turn in the opposite direction. The best way to avoid sliding in the first place is to SLOW DOWN. Avoid cutting in front of trucks. It takes them much more time to stop than smaller sized vehicles. Maintain a safe distance behind snow plows because blowing snow can reduce visibility, and avoid the temptation to pass them. Remember that the road conditions behind a snow plow are much better than in front of them. When weather conditions are extreme avoid driving if you are able. Keeping the roads clear for true emergencies or for those who must travel for work helps keep everyone safe.

As always remember these basic driving safety tips: Make sure all passengers are wearing a seat belt, avoid driving while fatigued, put cell phones and other electronic devices down while operating a vehicle, never drink and drive, and make sure that children are properly buckled into car seats that are installed according to manufacturer recommendations. Remember that during the winter, extra layers will help keep children warm, but can also become dangerous in the event of a crash. The extra "padding" of a jacket or coat will compress during a crash, leaving more give in the harness and can cause serious injury or death. Place a child in the car with regular clothing on, and then cover child with blankets or put their coat on them backwards or "snuggie" style.