“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – Ben Franklin’s quote is as true today as it was when he said it in 1736. While this Founding Father was speaking on fire safety, it applies to a topic near and dear to the transportation industry – driving safety. As we enter the winter months, driving in rain, snow and freezing weather conditions can be hazardous – in fact, traffic accidents on snowy, slushy, or icy roads account for 24% of weather-related traffic accidents, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
With the help of AAA, Virginia Department of Transportation, Safety First Systems, and the National Highway Safety Traffic Safety Administration, we’ve compiled some of the most useful information out there to help you get to your destinations safely this winter. See our tips below for before you get behind the wheel and while you’re on the road, as well as a checklist of items you should have in your car this winter in case of emergencies.
Before you get on the road:
- Check that tires are properly inflated and the tread is in good condition.
- Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage.
- Keep your gas tank full or at least half full at all times.
- Keep your headlights and tail lights clean to ensure your vehicle can be seen.
- Dress warmly and in layers.
- Check the internet or listen to the radio for the latest road conditions.
- Keep a winter emergency kit in your car (see below for list).
- Use your seat belt every time you get into your vehicle.
- Know whether your vehicle has an antilock brake system and learn how to use it properly. Antilock brake systems prevent your wheels from locking up during braking, and when engaged you’ll feel the brake pedal vibrating – giving you early warning of slippery conditions.
- Drive slowly and keep a safe distance of at least five seconds behind other vehicles and trucks that are plowing the road. Ice and snow significantly increase your stopping distance.
- Treat snowplows and spreaders as emergency response vehicles – don’t pass unless absolutely necessary.
- Start braking well in advance of a turn or stop. Try to avoid using brakes while turning.
- Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface, such as on ice and snow.
If your vehicle breaks down or you get stranded:
- Pull as far off the road as possible to prevent getting hit by passing vehicles.
- Stay in your car, which offers temporary shelter and makes it easier for rescuers to locate you. Do not get out in a severe storm – you could easily lose sight of your vehicle in blowing snow and become lost.
- Make sure the exhaust pipe is free of obstructions and the windows are not sealed by snow or ice. Partially open a window to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
- If the engine will start, run it and the heater only for short time periods to conserve fuel.
- Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna of your vehicle or place a cloth at the top of a rolled up window to signal distress. At night, keep the dome light on if possible. It only uses a small amount of electricity and will make it easier for rescuers to find you.
Checklist for a Winter Car Safety Kit:
- Snow shovel, broom, and ice scrape
- Abrasive material such as sand or kitty litter, in case your vehicle gets stuck in the snow
- Jumper cables or portable jump starter
- Flashlight and warning devices such as flares and emergency markers
- Cell phone charger, water, food, and any necessary medicine (for longer trips or when driving in lightly populated areas)
- First aid kit
- Blankets for protection from the cold and extra clothes, boots, hats
- Brightly colored cloth to attach to the car or window to indicate you’re in distress