by G. Kunkel
(This article was originally published on Helium.com on November 9, 2008)
Wintertime can provide challenging driving conditions. Depending on your location you may be faced with rain, ice, snow, or a combination of all three. If you are properly equipped and prepared, you’ll be safe for any condition.
As a snowboard instructor in Colorado, I have to face extreme winter driving weather every year. Each year I go through a checklist to make sure I’m ready for any situation. Assembling my winter driving kit is the first priority. AAA has a great list of things to pack. Next, install winter wiper blades and use winter-rated washer fluid. I made the mistake one year of leaving in Florida-rated wiper fluid at 11,000 feet. I had an iceberg that could sink the Titanic.
Next, check the mechanical soundness of your vehicle. Have the brakes, radiator, belts and hoses, and the battery inspected. Cold weather plays havoc with all of these. Inspect the tread depth of your tires and make sure they are rated for mud and snow. You’ll see M/S stamped on the side of the tire.
Colorado has mountain driving as well as snow, ice and rain. I’ve found that driving a vehicle with four-wheel drive (4WD), high clearance and an axle that will send more power to the wheel that has traction to be very beneficial. This combination leaves me with options on roads that have scattered snow and ice patches. If you live in a climate with prolonged harsh winter weather, consider vehicles with AWD or on-demand 4WD.
If you find it necessary to drive in inclement weather, here are some quick and easy safety tips. Slowing down is the safest thing you can do. This will leave you more time to avoid an accident. Leave more distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. The less certain the road surface condition, the more room you should leave. Avoid using your brakes. Take your foot off the gas pedal instead. If you do need to use the brakes, apply a steady, constant pressure to slow down. Applying and releasing pressure only confuses anti-lock brake systems.
If you find yourself driving in a blizzard, don’t panic. Do pay attention to all highway signs and road closures. If faced with a road closure, pull into a truck stop, fill your tank up with gas, and go have a cup of coffee. Truckers will have the latest news on road conditions and possible alternate routes.
On snowy roads, drive where the road has been plowed and avoid making quick lane changes. Do not put your vehicle on cruise control and try to minimize on-board distractions. Keep focused on traffic about a quarter mile ahead of you. You’ll minimize unexpected traffic problems. You never know when an elk herd will decide to hang out on the Interstate.
If you find yourself in an ice storm, the best response is to pull over and wait it out. Nothing will grip roads covered in sheet ice. If the road has ice patches, slow down and avoid sudden braking.
Rainy roads and conditions can also be managed with proper preparation and caution. Be aware that a vehicle can hydroplane on very little water. Have the right tire tread design for your region’s conditions. Again, slow down, try to avoid deep water puddles, and don’t slam on the brake if you hydroplane. Just take your foot off the gas pedal.
Inclement weather can be challenging, but don’t let it ruin your day. A properly-equipped vehicle and a driving skill review should get you safely to your destination.
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