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Stay Safe When Driving in Severe Winter Weather

winter driving safety, severe winter weather

Winter Storm Luna will bring much of the Midwest and Northeast icy dangerous driving conditions over the weekend and into the early part of next week. Winter Storm Khan hit the Midwest and Southeast hard on Friday leading to hundreds of accidents. Winter has only just begun, so experts are urging travelers to be prepared and stay safe during severe weather.

The odds of having a driving emergency are much greater in the winter than in the other three seasons of the year. Researchers at Berkley evaluated 1.4 million serious car accidents attributed to weather conditions from 1975 to 2000 and found that fatal crashes were 14% more likely to happen on the first snowy day of the season compared with subsequent ones. Driving too fast for weather conditions plays a major role in fatal crashes each year, especially during the winter months.

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INDOT (Indiana Department of Transportation) and Weather.com offer the following tips for winter driving safety:

Be Prepared

  • Knowledge: Before leaving home, find out about the driving conditions. Safe drivers know the weather, and their limits. If the weather is bad remember, Ice and Snow, Take it Slow, or just don’t go.
  • Clear: Remove any snow on your vehicle’s windows, lights, brake lights and signals. Make sure you can see and be seen.
  • Inspect: Check your vehicle’s tires, wiper blades, fluids, lights, belts and hoses. A breakdown is bad on a good day and dangerous on a bad-weather day.
  • Time: Leave plenty of time to reach your destination safely. It’s not worth putting yourself and others in a dangerous situation just to be on time.

Winter Emergency Kit

It may also be useful to keep a kit in your trunk with thing you might need if you find yourself in an emergency:

  • Blanket: If you are stuck with a car that won't start, or that has conked out, and have to wait in cold weather for help, you will want a decent warm blanket as an extra layer.
  • Snow shovel: Get a short-handled shovel, probably a coal-type shovel, to stow in the trunk in case you need to remove snow from around the wheels of your vehicle. You can buy plastic ones, but you may want to opt for a metal one in case you also need to chip at some ice or compacted snow.
  • Flashlight/Lightsticks: Keep a good-sized, water-proof flashlight with fresh batteries in case your breakdown is at night. Lightsticks/glowsticks cost almost nothing at a dollar store and can be used either as a light source or to wear in case you are shoveling snow around your wheels at night.
  • Hand warmers: Available at camping stores. Smash the bag and the chemical reaction inside creates warmth to defrost fingers that may be trying to change a tire or fiddle with an engine.
  • Matches: You never know when you will have to manufacture heat.
  • Bottle of water and a few protein, snack bars or other shelf-stable food.
  • Syphon Pump: If being out of gas is your problem, and you get offered help by a good samaritan, you want t be able to get a gallon or two of gas out of another gas tank to get you going quickly.
  • Flares: These should be in your trunk in all seasons for putting next to your car if you are pulled over in distress.
  • Whistle: It can be used to either signal for help to someone who can't hear you yell, or to scare someone who may be trying to take advantage of your distress.
  • First Aid Kit: In the critical minutes before emergency care arrives, you could give an accident victim the care they need.
  • Spare tire and jack: Be sure to check the condition of your spare each month!
  • Jumper Cables
  • Tool box: Keep a set of tools such as a socket-style screwdriver, a roll of duct tape or electrical tape (to temporarily fix something like a leaky radiator hose or patch shattered glass), a pair of medium sized vise-grip pliers, a pry bar (to pull the fender away from the tire in the case of an accident), and a mini-compressor that runs off the car’s cigarette lighter.
  • Sharpie and paper: In the event you have to leave your vehicle, you will want to leave a note of your intentions.
  • Emergency cell phone (charged!): If you don’t already carry a cell phone, it is wise to invest in an inexpensive one with a limited monthly plan that can be used for emergencies only.

Proceed with Caution!

When driving in winter weather, watch out! Here are some to be on the lookout for:

  • First Snow or Ice: Drivers often aren’t prepared for winter driving and forget to take it slow. Remember to drive well below the posted speed limit and leave plenty of room between cars.
  • Black Ice: Roads that seem dry may actually be slippery – and dangerous. Take it slow when approaching intersections, off-ramps, bridges or shady areas – all are hot spots for black ice. Remember, Ice and Snow, Take it Slow.
  • Limited Visibility: Stay attentive and reduce speed. Know what’s going on around you.
  • Four-Wheel Drive: On snow and ice, go slowly, no matter what type of vehicle you drive. Even if you have an SUV with four-wheel drive you may not be able to stop any faster, or maintain control any better, once you lose traction. Four-wheel drive may get you going faster, but it won’t help you stop sooner.
  • Speed: The faster you’re going, the longer it will take to stop. When accelerating on snow or ice, take it slow to avoid slipping or sliding. Ice and Snow, Take it Slow.
  • Distance: Give yourself space. It takes extra time and extra distance to bring your car to a stop on slick and snowy roads. Leave extra room between you and the vehicle in front of you.
  • Brake: Brake early, brake slowly, brake correctly and never slam on the brakes. If you have anti-lock brakes, press the pedal down firmly and hold it. If you don’t have anti-lock brakes, gently pump the pedal. Either way, give yourself plenty of room to stop.
  • Control: When driving on ice and snow, do not use cruise control and avoid abrupt steering maneuvers. When merging into traffic, take it slow. Sudden movements can cause your vehicle to slide.
  • Vision: Be aware of what’s going on well ahead of you. Actions by other vehicles will alert you to problems more quickly, and give you that split-second of extra time to react safely.

Indiana Department of Transportation