Winter Driving: Challenge Accepted, but Now What?

[Disclosure: the following is intended as a public service and makes use of source material found at the American Automobile Association blog.]

As most of us are aware, especially if we grew up in upstate New York, winter is the most difficult driving season. Not only do you have to deal with ice and snow on the roads but giant snow plows and other motorists on the road, and often a lack of daylight. Winter driving can be frightening, inconvenient, infuriating, and exceptionally dangerous. The age group from 16-19 years old are at the highest risk of an accident than any other age group, especially during the winter months.

As a motorists, it’s our duty to be aware and understand the safety rules of winter driving to help minimize risks.  According to Zach Anderson, English teacher at Indian River High school (and a guy who learned to drive in Buffalo): “Even experienced people have trouble in bad weather conditions, because of the lack of visibility and traction.” [Anderson also went on to say some stuff about scary student drivers, but that’s a different story]. In general as a motorist it’s important to prepare for the cold temperatures and harsh conditions that we will face.

Many routine precautions can help you avoid problems and costly repairs. Before winter weather arrives, make sure your vehicle is in good condition, especially the tires. Under the hood is the perfect place to start with a basic engine tune up and check. That means making sure all fluids are at proper levels, replacing the oil in the engine, battery connections are clear of corrosion, and voltage is strong.

In your vehicle you’ll want to have a variety of items on hand, a set of jumper cables, a flashlight, an ice scraper, warning device such as flares or reflective triangles, tow chain, first-aid supplies, as well as an extra set of hats, and mittens. It might sound a little crazy to carry so many things in your vehicle but in an emergency situation it will prove to be vital.

Now that you’re prepared, it will be time for you to drive .When driving in the snow you want to be very cautious even if there’s a little snow on the road. It’s important to accelerate and decelerate slowly. For normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to ten seconds. This margin will provide a longer distance if you need to stop.

Everything will take longer on snow-covered roads, nothing will ever happen as quickly as on dry pavement–except ending up in a snow bank. Young or old, if the weather is bad, always consider staying home if you really don’t have to go out of your house.

In the unfortunate event that you do get stuck remember not to panic. You want to first turn your wheels from side to side a few times to move snow out of the way.  In most cases, you DO NOT want spin your tires-you’ll just dig in deeper! Keep a light foot on the gas and ease forward, shift into reverse, and back again. Each time you switch gears you’re “rocking” the vehicle which is a very effective way to get unstuck.