If you live in an area of the United States that gets heavy snowfall or icy conditions, you should be keenly aware that winter is right around the corner. While more total car accidents occur during summer, this is usually attributable to the fact that more people are driving (and driving long distances). In the winter, there are far more active threats, and more unpredictable conditions, which can lead to much more dangerous driving.
Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to improve your winter driving, and dramatically reduce your chances of being involved in a collision.
Understanding Other Drivers
First, understand that even if you drive perfectly, paying complete attention and in total control of the vehicle, there’s a chance that you may be involved in a collision with another negligent driver. Winter conditions tend to bring out the worst in people; there will be drivers who don’t pay attention to their surroundings, drivers who speed through snow and ice, and drivers who underestimate the severity of their surrounding conditions. If you are involved in a collision, it’s important to get to safety as quickly as possible, contact emergency services, and eventually, contact a lawyer.
Avoiding the Worst Weather
The best thing you can do to drive safer in the winter is to avoid driving during the worst weather. When there’s a winter storm warning in your area, when the snow is many inches thick, and/or when the roads are completely iced over, it’s a good idea to avoid any driving that is remotely avoidable. For example, you may still be required to go to work, or get groceries from the store, but if you’re just going out for a night with friends, it’s in your best interest to stay indoors. Depending on conditions, it may be advisable to spend the night somewhere, rather than trying to make the drive home.
Improving Your Abilities
Skilled drivers perform marginally better in winter conditions than their unskilled counterparts. As you might suspect, the only real way to reliably improve your skills is to drive in winter conditions. During summer and fall, you’ll find it hard to replicate winter conditions in a way that allows you to get better at handling them. But during the first few snowfalls, you’ll have an opportunity.
Find an isolated parking lot or similarly open area, and practice driving with your vehicle. It’s a good idea to intentionally get into a skid, and learn how to steer to get out of it. This will give you confidence, which can prevent you from panicking or overcorrecting in live conditions. It will also help you establish muscle memory, which will kick in if you’re ever experiencing a “real” skid. The more practice you can get for winter conditions (assuming that practice is safe), the better.
Moderating Your Approach
You can also improve your winter driving safety by changing your driving approach slightly. There are three easy ways you can do this:
- Slow down. No matter how fast or slow you usually drive, take things slower in icy or snowy conditions. This will give you more time to react to sudden changes in your environment, and reduce the impact of a collision (should one occur).
- Increase your following distance. The same is true of increasing your following distance. Try to keep multiple car lengths between you and the car in front of you, with more spacing the faster you’re going.
- Remove more distractions. Ideally, you’ll never drive with distractions, but let’s face it—most of us are distracted by one thing or another. In winter weather, it’s important for you to go on lockdown; if you’re driving with passengers, keep them quiet. If you have a smartphone, keep it in the glove box. If you listen to the radio, keep it at an extremely low volume. The more attention you pay to the road, the better.
Preparing Your Vehicle
Finally, consider preparing your vehicle for winter driving conditions. Topping your windshield wiper fluid will ensure you have a clear line of sight, and if you’re anticipating heavy snow or icy conditions this year, consider putting winter tires on your car. In extreme cases, you may also use tire chains to get more traction when driving.
As an added safety measure, it’s a good idea to keep an emergency kit in your car. This should include warning lights to increase your visibility, some medium to get more traction (such as kitty litter or sand), jumper cables, and various tools to fix different components of your vehicle. In case you get stuck, it’s also a good idea to bring extra coats, gloves, hats, and blankets to stay warm, as well as extra food and water.