Governor Robert F. McDonnell recognized December 5-11, 2010 as “Winter Preparedness Week” in the Commonwealth of Virginia. That proclamation was well timed as much of Central Virginia woke up to a coating of snow on December 13th, and again on Christmas Day. While those snowfalls were earlier than usual, , they could be a precursor of more and bigger things to come our way as we enter the winter season.
Virginia experienced severe winter weather last year which resulted in numerous record-breaking snowstorms. As a result, it appears that the Virginia Department of Transportation and other state agencies have taken early steps to prepare for whatever winter weather may be coming our way. For example, VDOT has allocated $115.1 million for its statewide snow removal budget which represents a $21.4 million increase from last year’s budget. Hopefully Virginia will not encounter a repeat of the brutal 2009-2010 winter but we all need to be prepared. Here are a few tips and resources you may find helpful in preparing for winter driving:
- Make certain your tires are properly inflated. Never mix radial tires with other tire types.
- Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze-up.
- Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface (wet, ice, sand).
- Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Don’t try to get moving in a hurry, and take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember, it takes longer to slow down on icy roads.
- Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping, turning – nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly.
- The normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to ten seconds. This increased margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.
- Know your brakes. Whether you have antilock brakes or not, the best way to stop is threshold breaking. 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.
- Don’t stop if you can avoid it. There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it.
- Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed downhill as slowly as possible
- Don’t stop while going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.
- If you are in a rear-wheel skid ? continue to look at your path of travel down the road and steer in the direction you want the front of the vehicle to go; take your foot off the brake and ease off the gas pedal if the rear wheels lose traction due to hard acceleration (rear-wheel drive); continue to steer to avoid a rear-wheel skid in the opposite direction; as the vehicle straightens out, shift to the gear appropriate to your driving speed and accelerate gently.
- If you are in a front-wheel skid ? continue to look where you want to go; take your foot off the brake and ease your foot off the accelerator; if the front wheels have turned prior to the loss of traction, don’t move the steering wheel; as soon as traction returns, you will be able to steer the vehicle again. Steer gently in the direction you desire to travel and accelerate smoothly to a safe speed.
For additional information, see the following:
- www.511virginia.org = Provides real-time updates on traffic incidents and road conditions.
- 1-800-FOR-ROAD = A 24/7 hotline to report Virginia road hazards or ask road-related questions.
- www.virginiadot.org = Information on VDOT’s news, projects, programs and other topics.
- www.virginiadot.org/travel/snow.asp = Winter travel/driving tips, photos, video and audio clips of snow removal operations.
- www.virginiadot.org/about/emer_response.asp = How VDOT prepares for emergencies and what citizens can do to prepare.
- http://www.vaemergency.gov/ = Emergency preparedness tips and other information.
- (Twitter) Click on http://www.virginiadot.org/newsroom/vdot_twitter_feeds.asp = To subscribe to a regional traffic feed.
- (Twitter) Follow www.twitter.com/vdem for news and information about statewide emergency conditions.
Of course, the best advice for coping with winter weather? is to STAY AT HOME if at all possible. Fourteen Virginians lost their lives in last winter’s storms. Please take the time to prepare now, drive safely when you are on the road, and avoid being another highway statistic.
About the Author: Fredericksburg car accident attorney David Williams has focused his legal career almost exclusively on personal injury law and wrongful death cases. David is also a defective products lawyer in Fredericksburg. He has successfully argued cases before the Virginia Supreme Court.
 These tips are recommended by AAA; see http://www.aaapublicaffairs.com/main/default.asp?categoryid=3&subcategoryid=55. ?