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7 Tips on Driving in Poor Weather Conditions: Do’s and Don’ts

Dec 17, 2013 09:58AM ● By Erin Frisch

Winter is here, and we’ve seen just the start of what’s shaping up to be an old-fashioned New England winter, complete with snowstorms, sleet, and icy roads that make driving dangerous. The best advice, of course, is not to drive at all in bad weather if you can avoid it. When you must get out to go to work, school, or elsewhere, try to wait until the plows and salt trucks have been out before getting in your car. And do some research on your planned route to see if you’ll need to find an alternate one. For example, if you can avoid a steep hill by going another way, do so. Then follow our seven tips to make sure you’re driving your safest in poor conditions.

1. Do give yourself more space than usual to stop. You should leave at least three times more space between you and the car in front of you than normal. Brake gently to prevent skidding.

2. Don't assume your vehicle can handle any conditions. Even all-wheel drive vehicles can have difficulties, especially on icy roads. If your rear wheels skid, take your foot off the accelerator. Then steer in the direction you want your front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding right, steer to the right, and vice versa. As you recover, your rear wheels may slide the other way. Steer gently in that direction. You may end up going back and forth a few times before you totally recover. If you have anti-lock brakes, apply steady pressure (you’ll feel the brakes pulse, which is normal). If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.

3. Do be especially careful on bridges and overpasses. These sections of roads typically freeze first, even at temperatures above freezing. If a bridge or overpass looks wet, you may encounter icy patches. Reduce your speed and keep an eye out for them.

4. Do prepare for problems by having a shovel and more in the car. If the snow piles up quickly or is deep and has not yet been plowed, you risk getting stuck. If your car is stuck, DO NOT hit the gas, which will only dig it in deeper. If you have a shovel in your car, try digging out around the wheels and underneath the car. If you don’t keep a shovel in your car, keep something in the trunk that will give you traction. This could be sand, gravel, salt, or even kitty litter. Throw some under the wheels to help get traction. In a pinch, you can try using your floor mats to get traction. Scrape snow away from the wheels and wedge your floor mats under them to give the wheels a chance to get off the snow. Finally, try rocking your car by switching the transmission from forward to reverse, giving the car a little gas each time.

5. Don’t use cruise control or overdrive in poor conditions. Be hypervigilant about what is going on around you, and be in complete control of your vehicle at all times.

6. Do get your car inspected at the beginning of winter and complete a pre-trip inspection yourself before heading out in bad conditions. Have a mechanic check your car at the beginning of the season, checking the battery, tire tread and pressure, brakes and lights, and fluid levels. Before any trip, take a look at your car yourself. Do any tires look low, are all your lights working properly (especially brake lights and blinkers), do you have enough windshield wiper fluid, and are your wiper blades clearing the windshield effectively? Don’t forget to check your spare tire! It may need air as well.

7. Do avoid unnecessary lane changes, and exercise extra caution at intersections. Lane changes are difficult in snowy and icy conditions. Even if the driver in front of you is creeping along, be extra cautious. If the visibility is low, you may not see someone coming in the other lane. Be especially careful around big trucks, whose drivers have limited visibility even in normal driving conditions. At an intersection, never assume you have the right of way. In slippery conditions, drivers are more likely to drive through yellow (and even red) lights, and roll through stop signs. Again, give yourself extra time to stop, and leave extra distance between your car and the car in front of you.

If you have never driven in winter conditions before (new drivers, new residents to snowy areas, etc.) or have limited experience, it’s helpful to practice driving in the snow or ice in an empty parking lot. Practice handling your car, see what it feels like when your car slides and skids, and learn how to regain control. Check your owner’s manual for specific tips on handling slippery road conditions. White-knuckle driving is no fun, but with a little luck and a lot of caution, you’ll master the art of staying safe on winter roads.

Do you have tips for driving safe this season? Let us know and comment below.

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