Winter weather driving means new risks on the road. Whether you’re headed to the mountains for the weekend and snow is in the forecast, or you’re about to set off on a road trip in heavy rain and windy conditions, our tips will help you drive safely.
Winterize your car. Before you hit the road, thoroughly check your vehicle, including the battery, tire tread, and fluid levels. If your windshield wiper blades make a scraping noise as they move across the windshield or are beginning to fray at the edges, it’s time to replace them. Worn tires are dangerous, so check for proper inflation and tread depth to prevent skids and hydroplaning. Schedule a tire rotation every 6,000-7,000 miles to prevent irregular wear.
Carry an emergency kit with you. Keep some extra supplies in your vehicle in case of emergency. Flares or reflectors, extra windshield wiper fluid, a flashlight with batteries, a few warm blankets, water bottles, and high-energy snacks are winter essentials.
Plan your travel. Check weather, road conditions, and traffic reports before you leave. Even if you use a GPS system, map out your route ahead of time to familiarize yourself with directions. Fill up your gas tank so that you’ll have enough fuel to get home or keep warm in case of a traffic jam or snowstorm.
Stay in control on snow and ice. When driving in the snow, it’s all about tires. For adequate snow traction, a tire (even a winter tire) requires at least 6/32-inch deep tread. If you plan to use snow tires, have them installed before the snow storms hit. If you expect to encounter serious snow, swap your wiper blades for a pair designed for winter driving. Check your windshield washer system function and fluid levels, and apply Rain-X to the outside of your windows to improve visibility.
Stay focused in fog. Fog can significantly reduce driver visibility, making it a dangerous condition for both new and experienced drivers. Stash your iPhone out of sight and turn down the music to reduce distractions. Slow down in fog and drive with your headlights on to help other drivers see you (but avoid using high-beam headlights - they don’t function well in fog). If your visibility is severely limited, find a safe place to park and wait until conditions improve.
Stay alert in heavy wind. Strong winds can occur anywhere but are most common in wide open spaces, highway overpasses, and tunnels. If you are driving a large vehicle or pulling a trailer in windy conditions, keep a firm grip on the wheel and slow down in case of sudden gusts. If you are driving a small or medium-sized vehicle, be aware of larger vehicles and give them plenty of space on the road.
Slow down in heavy rain. A vehicle traveling too fast in heavy rain can hydroplane. Slow down to keep your car from hydroplaning, and if you can postpone your trip for an hour, that’s a smart plan - conditions are most slippery soon after it starts to rain from oils on the roadway. Drive with your headlights on to help other drivers see you, and give vehicles around you plenty of space to react to traffic.
Know when to rely on technology. In heavy rain, do not depend on cruise control, adaptive cruise control, or forward collision warning systems - wet weather can affect system sensors and reduce their reliability. Traction-control features prevent wheels from slipping on wet roads and antilock braking systems (ABS) can stabilize your vehicle in wet weather.
Stay in touch. If you are driving during a snowstorm or slick conditions, let a friend, coworker, or relative know where you are headed and your expected arrival time. Keep your attention fully on the road, and avoid the temptation to check your phone or text or talk while driving.
Stay calm if you are stranded. If you are stranded during a storm, stay in your vehicle and call 911 for help. Don’t try to walk to shelter, push your car off the road, or shovel snow during storm conditions. Your vehicle is a good shelter, and it’s important to stay calm and avoid overexertion while waiting for help to arrive.