Winter storms bring freezing rain, ice, snow, high winds – all making roadways very dangerous. Each year, hundreds of Americans are injured or killed by vehicle accidents on wintry roads. Drivers that become stranded risk suffering from frostbite or hypothermia, and unfortunately can even die from exposure. Planning and preparing can help you manage the impact of weather and keep you and your family safe. With that in mind, please consider these important tips, recommended by organizations like FEMA and AAA, about driving during a winter storm.
Stay off the roads if you can. Federal Highway Administration reports indicate that the risk of vehicular accidents rises sharply in winter weather conditions. In an average year, there are more than half a million vehicle crashes when the roads are snowy, slushy, or icy, resulting in nearly 2,000 fatalities and 150,000 injuries. Driving is very dangerous during and immediately after a winter storm and you should make plans to stay off the road when advisories and watches are issued. Try to wait enough time for roads to be cleared.
Essential travel only. If driving is absolutely necessary, ensure you have emergency supplies of food and water, warm clothing, and a full tank of gas in case you are stuck in traffic or have an accident and have to wait several hours for assistance. Try to travel during the day and do not travel alone. Stay on main roads and the most heavily travelled routes since crews treat those roads first. Let someone know your destination, route, and expected arrival time.
Drive slowly. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly. Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Don’t try to get moving in a hurry. And take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on icy roads. Increase your normal following distance from the car in front of you. The additional margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.
Take extra care on hills. Try to gradually build a little speed before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed down hill as slowly as possible. Do not stop going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road, and you do not want to. Don’t try to speed up after you’ve lost momentum on a hill – accelerating heavily on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning.
Prevent a winter skid before it happens. Avoid sudden movements when steering, stopping or accelerating. The most common causes are driving or accelerating too fast, turning the steering wheel abruptly, braking too hard, or taking a turn or curve too fast. A common misconception is that SUVs and pickup trucks somehow have a better grip which allows them to drive faster in wintery conditions – this is not the case.
Don’t panic if your car skids. Make sure both hands stay on the wheel and keep your eyes on the road. Look where you want your car to go and keep looking there, even if your car starts to spin. Do not overcorrect your skid – abrupt movements can cause your car to skid and could make the situation much worse. Make slight adjustments to steering if needed, or gently tap the breaks.
Staying in your vehicle when stranded is often the safest choice especially when storms create poor visibility or if roadways are ice covered. If possible, make sure you pull as far off the road as you can to make sure you are a safe distance from other vehicles. Stay in the car unless it is absolutely necessary. Call for help if you have a cell phone. If you don’t, you can also signal distress with a brightly color cloth or material tied to an antenna or in a rolled up window. If rescuers are searching for you, turning on your interior light will make it easier for them to find you. Watch for signs of hypothermia or frostbite, and run the engine and the heater for 10 minutes each hour to stay warm – but make sure you have cleared snow away from the exhaust pipe and crack a window for ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.