Winter storms and other adverse weather conditions can be scary and hazardous. Snow, sleet, rain, ice, and wind can make roads extremely dangerous for drivers. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, automobile accidents on cold, frozen, slick pavement cause over 1,300 deaths and 116,800 injuries every year.
When you drive in the wintertime, you need to take extra precautions and prepare for road emergencies. Our guide will help you stay safe on the road during the coldest months of the year.
How to Drive Safely in Winter Weather
- Avoid driving in severe weather. Stay off of snowy, icy roads. Don’t put yourself and others in danger.
- If you do need to drive in wintry conditions, don’t rush. Give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination. Expect delays, slow traffic, and blocked roads. Be patient, and stay open to adjusting your plans and your schedule.
- Drive slowly; do not speed. It may be difficult to control your vehicle on slippery, slick roads. Reduce your speed so you can avoid obstacles and stop without sliding.
- Know your limits. If driving feels risky or unsafe, find alternative transportation or stay home.
Be Cautious and Practice Safe Driving
- Stay focused, awake, and aware. Do not text, drink alcohol, take drugs, or do anything that might impair your judgment and ability to react. Drive at or below the speed limit and wear your seatbelt.
- Stay at least fifty feet behind the car in front of you. This creates a five- to six-second buffer if you need to stop for any hazards ahead.
- Clouds, snow, rain, sleet, and fog reduce visibility during the day. As a precaution, drive with your lights on so you can see and be seen.
- Drive in a lower gear for better traction. You will have a better chance of maintaining control if your vehicle starts to slide on a slippery road.
- If you need to adjust your speed as you drive, do it gradually. Give yourself plenty of time to slow down as you approach a stoplight or stop sign.
- Control your steering wheel and do not engage cruise control in threatening winter weather. Your vehicle cannot recognize, avoid, or safely respond to hazards that can harm you, so it’s important to maintain control of its steering.
- Don’t drive beside snowplows or pass them on the right side. Snowplows may move slowly, overlap lanes, make wide turns, and stop frequently. Their operators may have difficulty seeing other vehicles, so drive in the open air and stay visible. Keep at least 200 feet away from the machinery.
Stay in Control
- If your vehicle becomes unmanageable on a slippery road, stay calm. Let your vehicle slow down before you try to regain control.
- Understand how your brakes work. If your wheels lock up on an icy road, you risk losing control of your vehicle. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor, and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal. Antilock brake systems can keep your wheels from skidding. If you have standard brakes that don’t respond to steady pressure, try pumping the brake pedal if your wheels lock up.
- Try to keep moving at all times, even at very low speeds. Increasing your speed as you roll is easier than moving forward after you make a full stop. When you approach a red traffic light, slowly roll forward as you wait for it to change.
- Keep moving forward on hills. It can be very difficult to move up a hill when the road is icy. Increase your speed before you start ascending, and let your momentum carry you up the slope. As you reach the top of the hill, reduce pressure on the accelerator and roll downhill slowly. Don’t stop; if you do, you may not be able to regain enough traction to reach the top of the hill.
- Plan your itinerary ahead of time. Check area weather forecasts and road reports before you start driving. Make sure your chosen route has not been blocked or affected by accidents, and make a backup plan to accommodate changing circumstances.
- Inform people about your travel plans and estimated time of arrival. If rain, sleet, or snow is on the way, consider changing your departure time so you won’t be on the road as the weather gets worse.
- Take a map or a printout of your route, even if you are using a satellite navigation system to direct you to your destination.
- Stick to main roads and avoid back roads that are less accessible to emergency services.
- On longer trips, take a break to stretch, eat, track your progress, and stay in touch with friends, relatives, and colleagues.
Stock up on Emergency Supplies
If you get stuck on the road, you will need to stay warm, safe, and alert. Prepare for unexpected delays and stops by keeping food, water, blankets, medicine, and other cold-weather gear in your vehicle.
- Make an emergency pack that includes a warm blanket or sleeping bag, heat packs, water bottles, snacks, and a first aid kit.
- Pack an ice scraper, a snow shovel, and an abrasive material like sand that you can use to free your vehicle if it gets stuck in ice, snow, or mud.
- Keep a set of jumper cables in the trunk of your vehicle.
- Make sure your cell phone is fully charged before you leave. Keep a charger that plugs into your car’s electrical system and a charged battery pack in your vehicle.
Inspect and Service Your Vehicle
When the winter season begins, hire a qualified, trustworthy mechanic to check for leaks, inspect your battery, belts, hoses, and parts, and perform any necessary maintenance or repairs. Most manufacturer’s defects can be repaired at no charge. Use a recall look-up tool or the SaferCar app to make sure your vehicle has no critical safety issues.
You will also need to maintain your vehicle during wintertime. Take a look at the list below to remind yourself how to keep your vehicle in top shape.
- Before you venture out in the wintertime, inspect your tires for damage and wear. If you notice any problems, see a tire service professional.
- As it gets colder, your tires’ air pressure drops. Make sure your tires are properly inflated. You can find the recommended tire pressure range for your vehicle in its owner’s manual, online, or on a label affixed to its door frame on the driver’s side. This pressure range differs from the specification shown on the tire’s body that denotes its maximum pressure.
- Consider installing snow tires. When shopping for new tires, compare the tread, traction, temperature performance, and safety ratings.
If you use thick or rubber floor mats in winter, make sure they are properly sized, fitted, and installed. Consider securing your mats with clips. Loose floor mats could obstruct your accelerator or brake pedal and lead to an accident.
Make sure all lights on your vehicle and trailer are fully functioning, intact, visible, and free of salt and grime. Inspect your turn signals, brake lights, emergency flashers, headlights, and interior lights for any damage or malfunction.
Thoroughly clear any frost, ice, or grime from your front and back windshields before going out on the road.
Make sure your windshield wipers are in good working order. Think about installing heavy-duty wipers that are designed for winter weather. Replace any worn-out wiper blades and fill your reservoir with high-quality windshield wiper fluid that contains a de-icer.
Remove old coolant, repair any leaks, and refill your tank with fresh coolant according to your manufacturer’s specifications.
Clear your exhaust of snow, mud, and debris. Blocked exhaust systems can leach deadly carbon monoxide into your passenger compartment when your engine is running. Garages, enclosed spaces, and rolled-up windows can also lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, so always warm up your vehicle outside in a ventilated space. If you get stuck on the road, run your engine only when you need to warm up.
Conventional battery power decreases as the temperature drops, but fuel-powered engines need more power to start up. Make sure your car battery is in good working order, and never drive with less than half a tank of fuel.
Hybrid and Electric Power Systems
Hybrid and electric vehicles may have a reduced driving range. Lithium-ion batteries generally have less available energy and use power to self-heat in colder temperatures. Minimize drain on your battery by keeping your electric or hybrid vehicle warm and sheltered when it’s not being used. In wintertime, charge your vehicle battery at night to keep it in its ideal temperature range.
What to Do if You Get Stuck
If you get stranded in your vehicle in the winter, focus on keeping yourself and your passengers safe, warm, and dry. Your vehicle will provide shelter while you wait for rescuers.
- Stay with your vehicle. Do not walk away from your vehicle during a storm. It is easy to get lost or injured and suffer from hypothermia.
- Remain calm and conserve your energy. If you dig out your vehicle, stay warm and take a break if you get tired.
- Stay visible. To signal distress, hang a brightly colored flag from your radio antenna or the top of a rolled-up window. At night, keep the dome light on so rescuers can find you easily.
- Stay warm and insulate your body from the cold.
- Keep yourself safe and conserve fuel.
Know What Steps to Take if You Have an Accident
Wintertime accidents can be disorienting and confusing. It’s important to know exactly what steps to take after a car accident. If you face or decide to take legal action, you’ll be able to provide the necessary information needed for your case.
- If you are able and not seriously injured, move to a safe place. If possible, move your vehicle out of the way of traffic.
- Reach out to 911 and law enforcement for help. Get immediate medical attention for any accident-related injuries. File a police report.
- Stay calm. When you speak to the police, share only your contact information and factual details related to the accident.
- Gather evidence. Make photo and video recordings of any damage to your vehicle, the accident scene, and your injuries. Take photographs of slick or damaged pavement, snow, ice, debris, damaged or obscured signs, and anything else that could have contributed to the accident.
- Collect contact information from other drivers and witnesses. If the accident affected other drivers, get their name, phone number, driver’s license number, address, and insurance information.
- Report the accident to your insurance company, but do not provide a recorded account of the incident.
- Only speak to your own insurance company. If other drivers were involved in the incident, your insurance agent or attorney can speak to them for you.
Contact an Attorney When You Are Involved in a Wintertime Accident
If you are a victim of a wintertime accident, an experienced attorney can help you negotiate with the insurance company and protect your rights and interests in the case of liability. Texas law gives you the legal right to file a personal injury claim and receive compensation when a driver’s negligence causes injury or damage. If your accident was due to a third party’s negligence, then you deserve to be compensated for your medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost time at work.
Even though Texas winters tend to be fairly warm, drivers should be prepared and learn how to respond to bad weather. Winter storms can cause unexpected hazards and dangerous road conditions. It’s easy for accidents to happen on slippery roads, but drivers can minimize the risk of weather-related incidents.
A careless driver can make a mistake that can cause you serious harm. An attorney can help you recover the damages you deserve. If you are in an accident, make sure to contact PM Law Firm for assistance.