Winter can be a very hazardous time of the year especially in Western New York, sunny one minute, and a blizzard 3 miles down the road. It pays to prepare yourself for the unexpected by having a few supplies and by following some simple safe driving guidelines to insure that you arrive at your destination.
First off prepare your vehicle for winter driving. Dependable transportation is important in the winter. It is very important to get it checked to avoid any unpleasant or perilous circumstances. You should inspect the following prior to winter, the Ignition system, belts, fluid levels including washer fluid, wiper blades, tires, cooling system, battery, lights and antifreeze. Keep your gas tank at least half full at all times. Keeping your tank as full as possible will minimize condensation and could prove helpful if you are stranded.
Before driving, clear off all windows and lights and the hood and roof of frost and snow. Drive with your headlights on. Stock your car with basic winter driving equipment. A scraper and brush, jumper cables, and a bag of sand or cat litter for tire traction. Also include a blanket, heavy boots, warm clothing, and flashlight with batteries. Reverse the batteries in the flashlight to avoid accidentally turning it on and draining them.
When driving, leave sufficient room for stopping, drive according to the conditions and use brakes sensibly. Brake early. It takes more time and distance to stop in winter conditions. Bridge decks might freeze before the roads do due to the fact they are open to the cold on both sides. Roads are exposed to the weather on only one side.
Don’t use the “cruise control” when you drive in wintry conditions. Even roads that seem perfect can have black ice and the smallest touch of your brakes to disable the cruise control can make you lose control of your vehicle.
Don’t get arrogant in your 4×4 vehicle. Remember that, if you are driving a four wheel drive vehicle, it may help you get going faster but it won’t help you stop any better. Many 4×4’s are heavier than passenger vehicles and in fact may take longer to stop.
Look further ahead in traffic than you usually do. Movements by cars and trucks will alert you earlier to difficulties and give you additional time to respond safely. Remember that trucks weigh more than cars and take more time to come to a complete stop, so avoid pulling ahead quickly in front of them.
Remember that the road in front of the plow is frequently in much worse shape than behind the plow. Plows will typically travel slower and there is always a temptation to pass them. For your safety, I recommend that you stay a safe distance behind snowplows.
When you see an approaching snow plow on a roadway, move as far away from the center line as you safely can because blowing snow may hide the actual width of the snowplow’s blade.
If stranded, call 911 on your cell phone and when you talk to authorities, be prepared to describe your location and the trouble you are experiencing. Listen for questions. Follow any instructions. They may tell you should stay where you so they can guide rescuers. Don’t hang up before you know who you are speaking with and what will take place next.
Stay in your vehicle. Walking in a storm can be very dangerous. You might lose your way, wander away, become exhausted and collapse risking your life. Your vehicle itself is a good shelter. Avoid overexertion. Attempting to push your car, trying to jack it into a new position or shoveling snow takes a lot of work in storm conditions. You might risk heart attack or other injury. The storm will eventually end and you will be found. Don’t work so hard as to get hot and sweaty. Wet clothing loses insulation value making you more vulnerable to the results of hypothermia.
Keep fresh air in your vehicle. It is better to be chilly or cold and alert than to become comfortably warm and slip into unconsciousness. Keep the radiator unrestricted by snow to preclude the engine from overheating. Start the engine at 10 to 15 minute intervals for heat. Freezing-wet or wind-driven snow can plug your vehicle’s exhaust system permitting lethal carbon monoxide gas to go into your vehicle. Don’t run the engine unless you are positive the exhaust pipe is clear of snow or other objects.
Keep your blood circulating freely by undoing tight fitting clothing, changing positions frequently and moving your arms and legs. Don’t anticipate being comfortable. The task is to stay alive until you’re found. Make yourself noticeable to rescuers. Tie a bright cloth to your antenna or door handle if possible.
If you skid, don’t panic. You need to keep your head clear when you go into a skid, because your “instinctive” reactions are apt to do more damage than good. Second, keep your eyes focused on something in the distance. Choose a point further down the road in the direction you want to head and stay focused on this object. With this object in view, you’ll be better able to steer your car so that it is traveling in the correct direction.
Most importantly please remember to SLOW DOWN! Also, seat belts should be used at all times, it’s the law.
Norb is a columnist and worked as a safety professional in Lockport. He wants you be as safe as possible when driving this winter.