Comprehensive Guide to Safe Winter Driving

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When the temperatures drop and snow blankets the roadways, preparation is vital. The freezing temperatures and slick conditions can be a recipe for disaster. Follow these winter driving safety tips to make sure you arrive without incident.

Table of Contents

    Basic Safety Guidelines

    One of the best ways to avoid problems is to practice safe winter driving. By making these winter driving safety tips part of your routine, you’ll stay on the road and out of trouble.

    1. Wear Seat Belts

    Car safety always starts with wearing seat belts. It’s the law and according to the NHTSA, it cuts your chance of fatal injury nearly in half. Don’t overlook this simple step and always make sure you’re buckled in.

    2. Drive at Reduced Speeds

    To drive safely in winter, take things a little slower. By reducing your speed, you can stop quicker, turn more easily, and deal with the unpredictable situations that come your way.

    3. Avoid Distractions

    Although it can seem mundane, driving a car is a major responsibility. Give your full attention while driving, especially in winter. 

    Keep your phone out of your hands and avoid other distractions. Mere seconds can be the difference between a smooth drive and an unfortunate incident.

    4. Leave Enough Space To Avoid Rear-End Collisions

    Following cars too closely is a quick way to find trouble. Winter driving makes it even more risky.

    Leave sufficient space between yourself and the car in front of you. It allows you to see better down the road and gives you time to stop if an emergency comes up.

    5. Don’t Crowd the Plow

    The snowplows have a big job to do and they need space to do it. Leave plenty of room between yourself and any plow so they can maneuver freely to complete their job.

    Also, a snowplow operator’s field of vision is restricted. Even if you can see them, they may not be able to see you.

    6. Avoid Using Cruise Control on Snow and Ice

    Cruise control can be great for long road trips. But when snow and ice are on the roads, you don’t want to use it.

    Instead, keep acceleration and braking under your control. Your reaction times will be faster and you can avoid speeding up when you shouldn’t.

    7. Watch Out for Black Ice

    One of the most dangerous winter driving conditions is black ice. This transparent layer of ice can be extremely slick. Even the best four-wheel drive cars and winter tires can slide when black ice forms.

    8. When Turning, Turn the Steering Wheel in Advance and Do Not Brake

    One of the most important winter driving safety tips is to take turns much more cautiously. They can be prone to icing over and present more risk than straight roads.

    Approach each turn with less speed than usual and start your turn a little earlier. Never apply the brakes while turning as that is a surefire way to lose traction. Get to the right speed before you start turning and gently glide through it.

    9. Exercise Caution at Intersections, Ramps, Bridges, and Shaded Areas

    Any place where cars meet from different directions or speeds can be full of hazards. As can narrow bridges or difficult lighting in shaded spots.

    Winter driving conditions make each of these situations a little worse. Approach these hazardous areas with less speed and more awareness when driving in winter.

    10. Obey All Road Signs

    Pay attention to road signs. They’ll let you know when curves and other obstacles are ahead. In many cases, you’ll want to drive slower than the speed limit or suggested speed if the roads are snow-covered or icy.

    11. Avoid Fatigue

    Driving while drowsy is dangerous. According to the CDC, being awake for 24 hours is like having a BAC of 0.10%, above the legal limit in the U.S. Before you drive in the winter, get an adequate amount of rest. 

    Driving on slick roads requires more attention and skill. Don’t push yourself too hard for too long either. 

    Dealing With Car Trouble In Winter

    Any time your car breaks down can be difficult to deal with. But in cold weather, the risks are even greater. 

    1. Pull Off the Road and Activate Hazard Lights

    Your first task is to get out of the way and activate your hazard lights. Get off the road and into a safe area away from moving traffic whenever possible. 

    If you must use the shoulder, try to get as far off the road as possible. Choose a spot where cars can see you as they approach.

    2. Set Up Flares for Visibility

    A good emergency roadside kit will have flares and a reflection triangle inside. Use these when stuck on the road in winter. Not only will they help others avoid a collision, but they also let others know you may need help.

    3. Stay With the Vehicle

    It can be tempting to wander out for help. But in most situations, you’re better off staying with your car. It provides shelter and if you have some emergency supplies, you can get through a winter storm much easier than walking.

    4. Avoid Disorientation During Storms

    If you find yourself in a snowy storm, whiteout conditions may occur. These may prevent visibility and it is very easy to get disoriented. If you can, pull off the road and wait out the storm before heading on your way.

    5. Make Sure the Exhaust Pipe Isn’t Clogged With Snow, Ice, or Mud

    You may need to run your car for warmth while stuck in the winter. Trapped exhaust gasses can be deadly. Whenever you need to run your vehicle, make sure the exhaust can escape the pipe and get away from your car.

    This is a major advantage for new energy vehicles. EVs don’t have to worry about exhaust problems.

    6. Await Assistance Safely

    Once you find a safe place to park, call for help and wait in your vehicle. Use your road flares and other emergency indicators to signal you need assistance.

    Winter-Ready: Essential Car Preparations

    One part of winter driving safety you don’t want to forget is preparing before you head out.

    1. Wiper Inspection and Replacement

    Your wipers will need to clear snow, sleet, and filthy winter road grime. They need to be in good shape so you can see where you’re going. Inspect and replace your worn-out wipers. 

    Winter wiper blades can be well worth the cost. The blade design prevents ice and snow accumulation. As a result, they have much better performance in winter conditions.

    2. Headlight Maintenance

    Clean your headlight covers to make sure they provide optimal output. Seeing what’s ahead is vital during challenging winter driving. 

    If your headlights are cloudy after cleaning them, a headlight restoration kit can restore the clarity.

    3. Tire Inspection and Replacement

    Don’t forget to inspect your tires. To see if your tires have sufficient tread left, do the penny test:

    • Find the lowest tread point on your tires
    • Stick a penny into the groove with Lincoln’s head pointed toward the tire
    • If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, your tires should be replaced

    Winter tires are another great way to improve handling on snowy or icy roads. They’re made with softer materials and have specialized designs to provide better winter performance.

    4. Battery, Charging System, Fuel Tank Condition

    Cold weather puts more stress on your battery and electrical system. It’s also when small amounts of water or other contaminants in your fuel tank can cause problems.

    Check your electrical system by having your alternator tested and checking the date of your battery. Use water-removing additives in your fuel to avoid issues.

    5. Winter Servicing

    Make sure your vehicle is using the right fluids for the cold temperatures. And check them often to make sure they’re at the appropriate level. These include:

    Winter Tips and Essentials for Road Trip

    There are plenty of reasons to take a road trip in winter. But before you hit the open road, you may want to adjust a few items.

    1. Limit Travel During Inclement Weather

    You may need to deal with delays caused by poor weather. Rather than trying to drive in blizzard conditions, take a break and wait for it to pass. Road closures can be a harsh reality as well.

    2. Plan Your Route: Allow Plenty of Time

    Making good time is a common goal for road trips. But winter driving means slowing down and dealing with other challenges. Add some extra buffer time to deal with slower driving, more stops, and added safety precautions.

    3. Check Weather Forecasts and Inform Others of Travel Plans if Necessary

    Keep an eye on the upcoming weather before you hit the road. Conditions can change rapidly in mountainous areas with little warning.

    And before you hit the road, let a friend or family member know your plans. It may help to turn on location-sharing services so they can follow your progress.

    4. Consider Using Public Transportation

    If possible, consider using public transportation. It takes the pressure off your shoulders and you can comfortably relax while heading to your destination.

    5. Emergency Kit Preparation

    An emergency kit should be part of every vehicle’s cargo at all times. During winter driving, this kit becomes even more crucial. A good emergency kit should include:

    • First aid supplies
    • Road flares and reflection triangles or cones
    • Tire change equipment
    • Water and high-calorie foods
    • Blankets and warm clothing to get through overnight stays

    Our Verdict

    Driving in winter ramps up the risk. By driving with a little more caution, knowing when to pull over, and making sure your car is prepared for what’s ahead, you can deal with the snowy and icy roads.

    For more information on Tesla winter driving tips, head over to our post on Tesla Winter Easy Tips and Tricks.

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