Winter Driving Safety: Slow Down, Drive More Safely

Snow, sleet, ice, slippery roads, blinding snowfall, hazardous conditions all are possible on area roads now that it’s January and the winter driving season is upon us here in eastern Pennsylvania.

Yes, old man winter is back.

And with that, we here at MyPhillyLawyer prepared this handy guide to remind all of us about the importance of winter driving safety when we take our cars, SUVs and trucks out onto area roads when conditions are less than ideal.

It starts with the basics, of course:

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.

And though it may seem obvious, be sure to scrape all ice and snow from all the windows on your vehicle before you head out onto the roads. 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.

Then when the bad weather arrives, we sure to take the changing road conditions very seriously.

In Michigan, where winter means lots of snow and massive storms coming off the Great Lakes, the Michigan Department of Transportation offers several important driving tips that you might not have considered:

“Many people get into trouble by assuming the roads will not be slippery unless the temperature is freezing or below,” according the Michigan DOT. “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.”

And be especially careful in intersections, where surfaces can appear to be clear or only slightly wet but in fact turn out to be 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,” according to the Michigan DOT. “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.

In addition, it’s a good idea not to go out onto the roads after a measurable snowfall or during icy conditions until the snow plows and sanding trucks have had a chance to do their work, according to tips compiled by Weather.com.

Some other Weather.com tips include:

Remember to decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop while roads are snow-covered and slippery. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.

Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.

Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists.

Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.

Don’t use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.

Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.

If you get stuck, do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper. Instead, turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way and then use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out. You can also use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car and pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.

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.

Once you are on the roads during or after a storm, be sure to give snowplows a wide berth for your own safety.

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, so you certainly want to stay clear to avoid an accident.

Winter driving takes special skills and patience, both of which are important as you head out onto snow- and ice-covered roadways.

Give yourself extra time to get to your destination, reduce your speed and be extra cautious and smooth with your driving to ensure the safety of your passengers, pedestrians and people traveling in other vehicles.

We here at MyPhillyLawyer stand ready to assist you with your legal case if you or a loved one is ever seriously injured in a vehicle accident caused by another driver anywhere in the United States. We represent the families of victims who die in such tragedies as well, to ensure that their families receive every penny of damages that they are eligible to receive.

Call MyPhillyLawyer at 215-227-2727 or toll-free at 1-866-920-0352 anytime and our experienced, compassionate, aggressive team of attorneys and support staff will be there for you and your family every step of the way as we manage your case through the legal system.

When Winning Matters Most, Call MyPhillyLawyer.