Under normal weather conditions, driving is a potentially hazardous activity because of the sheer size of the average vehicle and the speed at which it travels. When the weather turns bad, the act of driving becomes even more dangerous. During the winter season, bad weather is more common than at other times of the year. Examples of bad weather conditions include snow, sleet, rain, fog, and hail. As a result of this, winter driving is riskier and more likely to lead to accidents and fatalities.
In order to drive safely and avoid accidents, motorists need to know what dangers they face when driving during the colder months of the year. Foggy weather and heavy rains, for instance, can reduce the amount of distance that a driver can see, making it harder to react in time to avoid collisions with obstacles such as other vehicles. Rain combined with extremely cold weather can result in icy road conditions, as can snow or sleet. In this situation, cars run the risk of sliding across the road, particularly while attempting to brake. Sufficiently windy weather can make maneuvering difficult and can cause buses, trucks, and vehicles towing trailers to overturn. Hail storms can appear without warning, and in addition to potentially being a sign of a forming or approaching tornado, they can also damage windshields.
The first step in driving safely during the winter involves preparation before a motorist gets on the road. Before the winter months arrive, one should do a maintenance check on their vehicle to make sure that it is ready for winter driving. This involves checking the brakes, antifreeze, car battery, fuel filters, and the condition of the tires. In some areas, it may be advisable to switch the car’s motor oil to a winter blend. Windshield wipers are also important things to check, since their performance will be critical during heavy rains, sleet, or snow. The defroster and heating system are also crucial for safety and should be kept in top shape. One should also immediately fix any broken headlights or tail lights, and replace antifreeze that is more than two years old. Snow tires perform better on wet and icy roads than regular tires but not as well as tires with chains, as chains can reduce a car’s stopping distance by as much as 50 percent. Drivers should have chains on hand and ready to install during the winter, as buying them when on the road in the midst of harsh driving conditions may be much more expensive. During the winter time, motorists should keep their gas tanks as close to full as possible to avoid condensation in the fuel lines, which can freeze and lead to engine stalls. Also, keep car radios in excellent condition in order to stay up to date with weather events. Charged cell phones and CB radios are crucial for calling for help in case one gets stranded. Drivers should also keep a survival kit in the car in the event of an emergency situation. This kit should include car battery jumper cables, a shovel, a flashlight with working batteries and spares, bottled water, a first aid kit, spare heavy winter clothes, canned food with a manual can opener, and sleeping bags.
In the event of extremely bad weather, it is advisable not to drive at all if possible. Motorists who are not experienced with winter driving should drive as rarely as possible during harsh conditions or avoid doing so altogether. In addition, never use cruise control in bad weather, especially on roads where it has been snowing. Headlights should be turned on during inclement weather, and in many cases, it is legally required to do so. Regardless of whether it’s snowing, sleeting, or raining, drivers should go slower than usual and maintain as much as three times the normal safe driving distance between vehicles, up to nine or ten seconds of space. Lower gears are helpful for keeping traction, particularly when going uphill. If one encounters heavy fog while driving, the best course of action is to pull completely over and off of the road and wait for the fog to lift. Never accelerate into turns when it’s raining or snowing, as the roads can be slick and this will increase the risk of skidding or hydroplaning. Avoid puddles of any sort if possible, and when driving on snow- or slush-covered roads, follow the tire tracks of cars ahead.
Black ice is a major threat during the winter months. The name comes from the invisible nature of ice that builds up on roads at night in cold weather. Cars that drive over black ice run the risk of skidding and crashing. When driving on bridges and overpasses, the risk of black ice is especially high. One sign of black ice is when seemingly dry roads appear to have spots or patches of shiny texture. In this situation, motorists should slow down and not try to take sharp or fast turns. When forecasts are predicting freezing rain or other conditions that could lead to ice on the roads, it is advisable to avoid driving altogether if possible.
Aside from poor visibility, two of the most common dangers of driving in bad weather are skidding and hydroplaning. Skidding is when the tires cannot maintain their grip or traction on slippery roads or black ice conditions, and hydroplaning is when a car “glides” over wet surfaces. In the case of skidding, the driver should not slam on the brakes but rather ease off of the gas and turn the wheel gently into the direction of the skid. In a hydroplaning incident, avoid braking and instead ease off the gas so the car can slow down, which will eventually restore traction and one’s ability to control the vehicle.
For more information about driving safely during winter weather, check out the following list of links from our Los Angeles marijuana DUI lawyer:
- WVU University: Winter Driving
- Winter Driving Pointers
- McHenry County College: Winter Driving Tips (PDF)
- Driving in the Winter
- Driving Safely in Winter Weather (PDF)
- North Dakota State University: Winter Driving
- Safe Winter Driving Tips (PDF)
- Be Ready Before You Drive (PDF)
- Prepare for Winter Driving
- Desert Research Institute: Winter Driving Tips (PDF)
- Wisconsin Department of Transportation: Winter Driving
- Road Information: Winter Driving Tips
- Bowdoin Office of Safety and Security: Winter Driving Tips PDF
- Oregon State University: Winter Driving Safety
- Winter Driving: Be Prepared, Be Safe! (PDF)
- Winter Driving Safety Tips: Remind Yourself
- Gonzaga University: Winter Driving Safety
- Missouri Department of Transportation: Winter Driving Tips
- Winter Driving
- Driving Safely in the Winter
- Safe Winter Driving Practices
- Seattle Department of Transportation: Winter Driving
- Driving Safely in Snowy Weather
- State of Connecticut Department of Transportation: Winter Driving Tips
By Ted Burgess