If winter was a person, we could say that he or she is a master chef when it comes to cooking up hazards. Roads laced with black ice, skies turned to curtains of blinding snow, and frigid winds that make cars shiver are all perfect ingredients for risky winter driving. Just watch the morning news. Reports of multi-vehicle pile-ups and road closures are familiar topics during the coldest months. We may not have the power to tame these conditions, but there’s a long list of practices we can put in place to survive weather extremes.
If you call yourself an experienced driver, perhaps even a seasoned one, your response to hearing advice might be something that sounds like this – “yeah, yeah I know already!” While we won’t underestimate your driving abilities, reminders can come in handy, since all motorists – both rookies and veterans – forget safety tips from time to time. An auto accident lawyer has most likely dealt with a multitude of winter-time crashes, so they’re quite familiar with their causes as well as wise habits that can prevent them. Let’s take a look at what these legal experts have to say when it comes to safe driving in winter.
Winter-Proof Your Car
You can buy a waterproof phone and a windproof coat, but you most likely won’t find a winterproof car. A brand new vehicle will run smoother than an aged one, but still needs to be equipped despite it’s novelty. Yes, “grease work” is the only way to ensure that the car can survive the obstacles winter throws in it’s path. There’s a good chance that you’re on top of your car’s maintenance already, but in case you forget, an auto accident lawyer will recommend that you give a second glance to some important details.
Making Sure Your Car Can Handle Winter
- Tires – “Slip N slide” driving often stems from the use of tires that are not optimized for slippery roads. All-season tires offer some traction in the winter, but their hard rubber renders them less effective when temperatures drop. Winter tires offer the best protection, since their soft rubber grips the road even when the thermometer plunges. An added bonus of winter tires is an increased fuel efficiency. Finally, make sure to check the tire pressure before you hit the road.
- Brakes – Panic braking (which we’ll discuss in a bit) is never a good idea, but there are times when the brakes will save you from an accident. You need to make sure that they’re ready for the task, and you can do so by servicing them for unusual behaviour. Grinding, squealing, and delayed stops all signal the need for repairs.
- Ignition, Batteries, and Lights – The electrical aspect of your car needs attention too. An engine that won’t start or zero visibility are issues you don’t want to deal with in the winter – at all. Therefore, make sure to check your spark plugs and batteries, and replace them if they’re worn out. In terms of your headlights, make sure they’re bright and aim straight ahead so those whiteouts don’t blind you completely.
Drive With Your Mind, Not Just Your Hands
You’ve most likely heard the expression, “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” Whether you agree with this phrase or not, that mentality contains an element of truth in the matter of driving. You can service your car to the utmost degree, adding safety features that would perhaps impress the likes of NASA. But what good are they if you, as the driver, are not in prime condition to get behind the wheel? Experts say that human error causes 90% of road accidents, so it’s wise to listen to the advice of an auto accident lawyer who says to stay focused and alert.
Tips for Mindful Driving
- Get Sleep! – The experience of falling asleep at the wheel might make an interesting joke, but it’s nothing to laugh about when it happens. Your good friends on the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters, Tory and Kelly, conducted the experiment of driving in sleep deprived states. The effects which included veering out of lanes, proved to be worse than the effects of alcohol intoxication. Thankfully, it was just a simulation! The takeaway of this example is to make sure you’re well rested before hitting the road, especially in winter.
- Avoid Distractions – Never text while driving, and never answer the phone (even with Bluetooth) in treacherous or hazardous winter driving conditions. Your undivided attention is a must when the weather or the roads are bad. Distractions split your focus, and you may only realize danger when it’s too late. If you have to attend to something else, pull over or park somewhere safely, to carry out that task.
- Keep Your Cognition and Senses Sharp – As humans, we’re imperfect and sometimes our mind and senses don’t work at 100% capacity. Vision problems, chronic illnesses, and medications can impair your driving ability. If you deal with any of these issues, make sure to follow the advice of your family doctor and other specialists. Wear glasses/contacts if necessary, take the recommended dosage for medications, and heed the warnings to stay off the road if a health problem can cause a loss of consciousness.
Yield to Wise Preparation Before Driving Off
Another phrase you may have heard, is “those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” A family of six clearly heeded those words after they survived two days in Nevada’s mountains despite a temperature of -21 degrees Fahrenheit. The family’s Jeep had overturned, and they were stranded without any sight of help and had weak cell phone reception. A harrowing situation indeed! Fortunately, they were found by local residents and a search party of 200 rescuers. The parents were able to keep their kids warm, start a fire, and had food to feed them (although it ran out). Apart from mild cold exposure, no one sustained frostbite or serious injuries. Their “preparedness” kept them safe despite the dangers of being so isolated and immobile – a lesson you can learn when heading out in dangerous conditions.
Simple Ways to Prepare for the Weather
- Watch the Weather – The simplest form of preparation for winter driving is to find out the weather conditions.
- Make Sure You’re “Connected” – In the example mentioned above, the family had limited cell phone reception. Fortunately, this problem has been greatly reduced thanks to the installation of wireless towers in remote regions. If you were to get stranded, your cell phone could turn into a lifeline. Make sure to bring your phone if you have to drive in dangerous conditions, and ensure it is fully charged. The installation of services such as Onstar are more reliable than cell phones, since they use stronger signals and reveal your location. The latter saves lives, especially when crash victims are unconscious.
- Pack an Emergency Kit – There’s no way to sugar coat the serious nature of getting stuck on the road. If it happened to you, the waiting time might be a bit longer than what you’re comfortable with. Cold temperatures, thirst, and hunger are factors to consider. Therefore, packing an emergency kit is something you can’t neglect. The kit should include items such as blankets, flashlights, emergency food packs, first aid kits, road maps, and booster cables.
Stay Calm if Something Happens
Living in a country that’s visited by winter every year means that you’ll most likely encounter a skid one day. Don’t panic! Temporary loss of control usually results in nothing if the driver knows what they’re doing. Someone who panics makes the situation worse. Hard braking – a bad habit that’s common among beginners – often leads to skids, as well as driving too fast. However, they can happen to anyone, including those with years of experience. Fortunately, escaping a skid is not complicated and steps for regaining control such as the ones listed below are abundant in driving manuals.
Escaping the Skid:
- Release the brake if hard barking caused the skid (in the case of front wheel skid)
- Ease off the gas pedal if the front wheels lose traction
- Shift the gear to neutral if your car is automatic, or push in the clutch if your car is standard
- Wait for the front wheels to regain their grip on the road
- Select drive if your car is automatic, or release the clutch if your car is standard, once the car is steady
- Accelerate, but do so in a controlled manner
- Moderate your speed to prevent further skidding
You’ve seen it before. Crawling at tortoise-speed along a stretch of snow coated asphalt, you see cars stuck in ditches along the roadside. You might even see the tires spinning but of course, the cars are motionless. It can happen to you also, and the situation is indeed frustrating, even risky. Just like a skid, getting stranded can lead to panic, and panic often leads to poor judgement. The wise course of action is to follow a procedure that will ensure your safety until help arrives.
Stuck, But Not Helpless
- Avoid heavy lifting, shovelling or pushing of the car in extreme cold, since you can sustain life-threatening injuries
- Ensure that snow isn’t blocking your tailpipe to prevent carbon monoxide from entering your car
- Remain in your vehicle if your car is not in the path of other drivers
- Don’t keep your motor running the entire time
- Use a survival candle for heat if you have one, instead of the vehicle’s heater
- Wear a hat to prevent excess loss of body heat through your head
- Put out warning lights or flares if available
- Keep awake for traffic and tow-trucks who are out to help
- Make use of your winter driving kit if the need arises
Know When it’s Best to Avoid Certain Roads
A road may have no closures issued for it, but you should use your judgement when deciding on a route to take. You must accept that safety features, sharp senses, and emergency kits can’t defeat nature. Sometimes, you’re better off making smart choices by avoiding risky roads altogether. It doesn’t matter if a particular route is a well-known shortcut. You won’t go anywhere in any hurry if you get into an accident or sustain injuries from poor conditions!
That’s why an auto accident lawyer would recommend drivers to scrutinize their planned route. Does it have several hairpin bends and sharp turns, perhaps overlooking a steep hill? Is it notorious for accidents or has it been closed in the past? Is it a rural side-road that’s hard for an ambulance to access, or where wireless service is scant? All of these are important questions to ask before going about your journey, and you would certainly want to avoid routes that are rampant with these risks.
Safety is the Key to Escaping Winter Road Hazards
You can exhale now. There’s certainly a lot of information to consider here. You may never face the harsh conditions that some drivers have dealt with on the road. But how sad it would be if you found yourself in a treacherous situation because of poor preparation. Don’t let it happen to you. As mentioned at the start of this post, winter is a “master” of hurling hazards in the way of drivers. Blizzards, ice, wind gusts – they’re all elements of nature that none of us can control.
Yet, we can still escape the worst. By taking the advice of driving experts, transportation boards, and the words of an auto accident lawyer, you can stay safe even when the road is not. Even though an injury law firm will come to your aid in the event of an accident, wouldn’t you agree that prevention is better than compensation? No monetary sum can reverse the effects of permanent disability or emotional trauma. The tips mentioned throughout this post won’t make you immune to road accidents, but they’ll greatly increase your safety when driving through dangerous winter conditions.
If you are interested in more winter driving safety tips, visit the CAA website for a downloadable brochure. If you have a legal question or have been injured in a car accident, contact us so our experienced legal team can assist you further.
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