Winter Driving Tips: Safe Driving in Cold and Inclement Weather

 Author: Attorney J. David Douthit

Winter driving has its own challenges. In addition, in the winter the risk of exposure if you have a breakdown makes it doubly important that you properly maintain your car. Here are some tips that include both actions to take before you drive as well as some advice about driving in the winter.

Make sure your car is operating properly before driving. Some simple and inexpensive steps include topping off fluids, especially window washing fluid, and checking tire pressure. Keeping your gas tank as close to full as possible also helps by reducing condensation in the tank. You should also look at the maintenance schedule in the owner's manual, and get a tune-up if needed.

Check the weather along your route before travelling.

Clean snow and ice completely off your car. 1 Clean off the windshield, windows and side mirrors so you can see. Clear off your headlights and brake lights so that other drivers can see you. Clear the snow off the top of your car--if not, it's going to slide down over your windshield as you stop, which may create a hazard for you, or it may blow off your roof as you're driving and cause a hazard for someone behind you whose vision might be obscured, or their vehicle damaged, or even they may even crash.

Allow for greater stopping distances when driving on snow or ice. That means you need to leave a longer following distance behind other vehicles, and begin to slow sooner when approaching a stop. Remember that bridges and overpasses will freeze before surface streets.

Drive more slowly.

Brake gently to avoid skidding. With gentle braking you will need to brake earlier than normal. Perhaps the most dangerous action you can take when driving on ice and snow is to brake suddenly.

Keep some basic supplies in the trunk of your car, such as jumper cables, a quality ice scraper/brush, and a tow chain or strap. A bag of sand or kitty litter will provide some extra traction if you get stuck. A shovel will also help if you get stuck -- if a full-size shovel won't fit in your trunk, consider getting a collapsible shovel. Gloves, a hat, extra clothing and a blanket or two will come in handy if you're stuck or your vehicle is disabled for a period of time.

When driving in bad weather, you need to pay attention. Avoid distractions and concentrate on your driving. Hang up the cellphone, and keep both hands on the wheel.

Finally, if you don't need to go out, then don't. Even four wheel drive vehicles and pickup trucks can be difficult to handle with ice or snow on the roads. If your vehicle is small and light, or has front wheel drive, then you should stay off the roads until they are cleared. If you do have to go out, remember that roads are iciest early in the morning and again in the late afternoon, when the temperature is usually the coldest.


1 - The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles also warns about the danger of snow and ice falling off a vehicle on the road. See http://www.dmv.state.va.us/webdoc/safety/news/news.asp?id=5738. About the Author: J. David Douthit is a Richmond personal injury attorney.

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