The Tail End of Winter – The Time You Need to be the Safest?
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Winter weather can be challenging and dangerous to drive in, so at the first signs of spring, those who have hunkered down during the cold spell often feel the itch to hit the road. However, a little bit of sun can be deceiving, because late winter storms can be just as brutal and hazardous as the storms that keep us inside during the coldest part of the year. It may be warming up slightly, but until winter is officially over, it pays to remain vigilant on the road. Here are some reminders about how to navigate the snow, ice and freezing rain.
Give Yourself Time
Staying off the road in bad weather situations is ideal, but often we don’t have a choice. When you must travel during periods of inclement weather, leave early. The more time you give yourself to reach your destination, the less likely you will be to feel rushed and make unsafe decisions, such as driving too closely behind another vehicle, or speeding. If you are unable to leave early, just be late. It’s simply not worth the risk.
Slow Down and Increase Distance
It’s an obvious suggestion, but maintaining slow speeds and an increased distance between vehicles during inclement weather saves lives. The typical “3 second” rule does not apply here. In snow, rain or sleet, maintain a minimum distance of five seconds (preferably longer) between your car and the vehicle in front of you.
The speed you travel is also important. Posted speed limits are for driving in clear weather. When your vision is obstructed by fog or precipitation, and the roads are wet from snow or rain, you should drive well below the speed limit. If you’re having trouble seeing and navigating the roads, other drivers are, too. Depending on where you are driving (in town, highway), speed should sometimes be reduced by as much as 20 MPH or more.
In the event that you begin to slide or skid in your vehicle, remain calm. It is easier said than done, of course, but panic causes people to make unsafe choices that can exacerbate an already precarious situation. If your vehicle begins to skid, how you manage it will depend on whether you have a front-wheel drive vehicle or a rear-wheel drive vehicle.
Rear-wheel drive cars should be steered in the direction you want to go, and counter-steered for correction as the back wheels stop skidding. Once the vehicle’s direction has been corrected, shift into drive and gently accelerate.
Front-wheel drive cars should not be corrected immediately if the front wheels were turned just before traction was lost. If that’s the case, do not move the steering wheel because the sideways direction of the tires will create some braking force. If you attempt to forcibly correct the steering, that braking force will be interrupted. Instead, wait for the front wheels to grab the road again. The vehicle will allow for steering once traction returns.
Whether you have a front-wheel or rear-wheel drive vehicle, take your foot off the accelerator or brake immediately. Press on the clutch if you have a manual transmission, and shift into neutral if your vehicle is an automatic.
As winter begins to thaw, and the weather starts showing signs of promise, you may feel a false sense of security about driving. However, inclement weather is responsible for an estimated 225,000 car accidents annually, so it pays to remain vigilant. Although the sun may peek out from time to time, it is still winter. As such, maintaining good winter driving habits will help ensure that you reach your destination safely.