Snow is Coming: Get Ready for Winter Driving Safety
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on December 29th, 2011
Remember that Halloween weekend snow that surprised drivers in the Philadelphia region and across much of the East Coast two months ago? Well, that was just a dress rehearsal for the real snow that will soon be hitting our area now that Winter began officially on Dec. 21.
With that in mind, we here at MyPhillyLawyer prepared this handy guide to winter driving safety to remind you of good driving habits when the roads get slippery due to snow and ice in our area.
First, keep your car or truck in tiptop mechanical shape, from maintaining a good tune-up to ensuring that your tires, engine coolant, windshield wiper blades, window glass and other critical safety equipment are all in excellent winter driving condition. Tires should have excellent tread depth and must be inflated to their proper pressures to give the best control in any weather conditions. Check your vehicle owner’s manual or the tire information sticker located in the vehicle for all the proper tire inflation information. While all-season radials can be adequate, specialized snow tires will give you the best performance and traction when roads are snow and ice-covered.
Next, be sure to carefully watch the changing weather conditions and forecasts as winter storms approach, according to Road and Travel Magazine. “If snow or ice is predicted, make plans to leave early or arrive later,” the magazine reports. “If you can move a night trip to daylight hours, do so. Not only is visibility better, but if your vehicle is stalled, you are more likely to receive prompt assistance during the daytime.”
Another good piece of advice: Keep your gas tank at least half-full to add some weight that will aid traction, as well as minimize problems from water condensation in your vehicle’s fuel system.
And though it may seem obvious, be sure to scrape all ice and snow from all the windows on your vehicle. It’s always amazing when you see people driving around in bad weather with just a small area cleaned off on their windshield, isn’t it? Don’t be one of those people, for your own safety as well as the safety of others.
Be sure to clear off your vehicle’s headlights and taillights, too, before heading onto the road.
Road and Travel also recommends that you:
Drive slowly and remember posted speed limits identify the maximum speed allowed in ideal weather conditions. Law enforcement agencies can write citations to motorists driving the posted speed limit if weather conditions warrant a slower speed. Be alert to the actions of other drivers.
Anticipate cars coming from side streets and put extra distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you. If someone is too close behind you, don’t speed up; slow down or let them go around you.
To make sure other drivers see you, always drive with your lights on. At night, in fog and heavy snow conditions, low beams may be more effective than high beams.
When it comes to your vehicle’s brakes, if your vehicle has an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), then you should use a steady, firm pressure on the brake pedal when slowing. NEVER pump the pedal in an ABS-equipped vehicle. The ABS system can engage and disengage (or “pump”) the brakes far more efficiently and quickly than you can using your foot.
If your vehicle does NOT have ABS, then you should pump the brakes lightly and quickly when you feel them locking up, which can cause the vehicle to slide out of control.
One other good idea: Keep a well-stocked “emergency kit” in your vehicle, including a blanket, water, a flashlight and batteries, a cellphone, some snacks and other emergency items, in case they are needed.
Here’s a tip from the New York State Thruway Authority when driving on a snow or ice-covered roadway while snowplows are operating:
If you find yourself behind a snowplow, stay behind it until it’s safe to pass. Remember, a snowplow driver has a limited field of vision. Stay back (15 car lengths) until you’re sure it is safe to pass or until the plow pulls off the road. It’s best NOT to pass a plow for safety’s sake.
Remember that the road in front of the plow is usually in much worse condition than the roadway behind the plow. Plows will typically travel under 35 miles per hour and there is always a temptation to pass them.
Allow plenty of room when passing a snowplow. Do not cut back into the lane ahead of the truck too quickly since the plow extends several feet ahead of the truck. Some snowplows are equipped with a “wing plow,” extending off the side of the truck.
And from our friends in the Michigan Department of Transportation, where winter means lots of snow and massive storms coming off the Great Lakes, here are some other tips you might not have considered:
Anticipate the changing road conditions as you drive. “Many people get into trouble by assuming the roads will not be slippery unless the temperature is freezing or below. Ice can form on road surfaces any time the air temperature drops to 40 degrees or less and especially in windy conditions. Bridges and underpasses can be especially hazardous, as the ability of moisture to dissipate from the roadway is different, along with varying surface angles. Low or shaded areas and areas surrounded by landscaping can also contribute too less than ideal road condition issues.
Intersections are also areas that although appear to be clear or only slightly wet are often ice covered and slippery. This is caused by moisture emitting from the exhaust of cars waiting at the intersection, which then quickly freezes on the pavement. It is also recommended that motorists allow no less than a car-length in front of their vehicle when stopped behind other vehicles at intersections. They should also watch their rear-view mirrors for cars approaching too fast from behind. Often this extra margin of safety will allow drivers to pull forward in the event that an approaching vehicle begins to slide.
If your vehicle begins to slide on snow or ice, DON’T PANIC. Take your foot off the gas and DO NOT hit the brakes. If your vehicle begins to skid, do not brake, then steer the vehicle in the direction you wish to go. This technique is used in both front- and rear-wheel drive vehicles.
More information is also available in an online winter driving safety guide issued by PennDOT.
In the Philadelphia area, you can check snow conditions on the city’s 2,575 miles of streets by looking online for details during and after storms. The Web page also includes lists of snow emergency routes that are plowed first in the event of severe storms. Parking is forbidden on snow emergency routes when a snow emergency has been declared by the city.
When the snow does begin falling, remember to be careful out there. Use caution, slow down and avoid driving if you can during severe storms.
And not to worry – Spring is less than three months away.
That just sounds lovely, doesn’t it?