10 Tips to Stay Safe on the Road this Winter

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Winter weather can be unpredictable and dangerous, especially when driving. Snow, ice and sleet can increase the risk of accidents. 

On average, winter weather directly or indirectly contributes to over 540,000 vehicular accidents in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that approximately 120,000 police-reported crashes in 2021 occurred during snowy or sleet conditions. 

While the best way to stay safe in hazardous winter weather is to stay indoors, preparing your vehicle and taking precautions before heading out can make a big difference if you need to drive. Follow the tips below to stay safe on the road.

1 – Check the Weather Before You Go 

Be aware of the winter risks in places you visit, from blizzards to avalanches to ice storms. Check the local weather forecasts and warnings before heading out. Visit the National Weather Service for up-to-date forecasts and download the FEMA App for alerts in up to five locations.

If roads in your path are in poor condition, consider postponing non-essential travel until the roads are cleared. Consider leaving early or changing your departure to avoid being on the roads during a storm. Additionally, familiarize yourself with directions and maps before you go, even using a GPS. You should let others know your route and anticipated arrival time. Keep family and emergency phone numbers in your cell phone, including your auto insurance provider and a towing company.

2 – Get your Vehicle Winter Ready

Make sure your car is ready for winter weather by having a mechanic check the following in order to prepare for a potential emergency: 

  • Antifreeze levels.
  • Battery and ignition system.
  • Brakes.
  • Tire pressure.
  • Exhaust system.
  • Fuel and air filters.
  • Heater and defroster.
  • Lights and flashing hazard lights.
  • Oil.
  • Thermostat.
  • Windshield wiper equipment and washer fluid level.
  • Vehicle recalls.

Consider installing snow tires, but before buying new tires, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Tires page to review tire safety ratings.

3 – Maintain Your Vehicle

It is a good idea to keep your car regularly maintained throughout the winter season. Here are some things to check up on regularly:

  • Ensure your gas tank is full, as a full tank can prevent fuel line freezing.
  • Ensure your headlights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers and interior lights are all in working condition.
  • If you have an electric or hybrid-electric vehicle, keep your battery charged and minimize the drain on the battery.

4 – Remove Snow and Ice from Your Car

Before driving in snowy weather, removing all snow and ice from your car's windows, roof and lights is crucial to ensure visibility and prevent accidents. This will help you see and be seen by other drivers. 

5 – Slow Down and Increase Your Follow Distance

When driving, increase your following distance from 3-4 seconds to 5-6 seconds. It takes longer to slow down and stop on icy roads. Leave more space between your vehicle and the car in front of you. This will give you more time to react if you need to stop suddenly.

6 – Avoid Sudden Movements

Avoid sudden stops or sharp turns that can cause you to lose control of your car. Abrupt changes in speed or direction can cause your vehicle to skid or slide. When accelerating or decelerating, do so slowly and smoothly.

7 – Use Your Headlights

Visibility can be poor in snowy conditions, and using your headlights to see and be seen by other drivers is critical.

8 – Know How to Handle a Skid

If your car begins to skid, remain calm and steer in the direction you want to go. Avoid slamming on the brakes, which can cause your car to spin out of control.

If you ever find yourself in a skid, you should first take your feet off the pedals. After that, quickly turn the steering wheel in the direction you want to go. As your vehicle turns back in the correct direction, you will likely need to steer in the opposite direction to stop the turning and stay on your desired path.

9 – Know What to Do if You’re Stranded

If stranded, you should display a sign that indicates you are in trouble. The National Weather Service suggests tying a bright-colored cloth to your antenna or door. When the snow lets up, raise the hood to signal for help.

While you wait for help, you should run the engine for 10 minutes per hour to stay warm and to charge your cell phone. Open a window slightly to let fresh air in and prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning

10 – Keep an Emergency Kit in Your Car

In case of an emergency, it's essential to keep an emergency supply kit in your vehicle that includes the following:

  • Jumper cables.
  • Flares or reflective triangles.
  • Ice scraper.
  • Snow shovel.
  • Cellphone charger.
  • Blankets.
  • Map.
  • Cat litter or sand (for better tire traction).
  • Flashlight.
  • Water.

By following these tips, you can stay safe and avoid accidents while driving in winter weather. Remember, it's always better to be prepared and take extra precautions when the roads are hazardous. Stay safe, stay alert and stay #WinterReady!

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