The best winter driving safety tips don't just come from behind the wheel. They start before you turn the key.
When it comes to winter driving, safety tips for smart drivers should start before you get into the car. The most important thing to remember about driving in the winter is that there are no guarantees. Extreme cold can wreak havoc on your engine, potholes can cause tire blowouts, and icy patches can quickly send your car into a spin.
Driving in winter also requires you to be especially aware of other drivers. You never know how someone else will react if they hit a patch of ice or start sliding on a hill. Defensive driving in winter can keep you and your car out of a dangerous situation.
No matter how many precautions you take, however, inclement weather can throw any number of surprises your way, so it's best to be prepared for anything.
Winter driving safety tips: before you get into your car
Plan for the worst - If you are driving long distances or in lightly-populated areas, keep a blanket in your backseat in case you get stuck somewhere. Even in metropolitan areas, travel with a warm coat just in case you need to walk somewhere in the event of a breakdown.
Keep your phone fully charged - Turn off any unnecessary apps before long drives, and in the event of an emergency, use your phone as little as possible so you can conserve power for emergency calls.
Keep your car in prime condition - Properly inflated tires will not only save you gas money, but they also give you more traction in winter driving conditions. For long distance trips, try to keep at least a half-tank of gas with you. You don't want to get stuck with an empty tank and a wind chill of 20 below! Plus the gas will help limit the moisture in your tank, which can freeze in low temperatures.
Check your fluids - Keep all your fluids topped off to help prevent a breakdown or engine freeze and also to help you drive better. A de-icing windshield wiper fluid can help keep all that gunk off your windshield. This will reduce glares and smudges and help you see better, which, we don't need to tell you, is especially important when you are driving.
Stock your trunk - Your trunk can be fully equipped for basic winter conditions with a few small items: an ice scraper, a small shovel, and cat litter or rock salt. Invest in a good ice scraper. It really does make a difference in removing ice and snow from your windows and lights. As an added bonus, it can remove any snow that has piled up on your roof. If you don't remove the snow from your roof, it could easily blow off while you are driving and cause an accident behind you.
A small shovel and cat litter (or rock salt) can help you if you get stuck in the snow. Shovel out as much as you can around your tires, and then pour some cat litter in front of and behind your tires for traction. Another trick for gaining traction is to use your floor mats. Place one or two as far underneath a stuck tire as you can to help pull it out of a slippery situation.
Winter driving safety tips: in the car
There is a big difference between summer driving and winter driving. Safety tips for summer driving apply exponentially in winter. Don't tailgate. Give yourself ample time for braking. And, save the texting and phone calls for later (always, but especially in winter). The simple fact is that winter driving safety tips have to go beyond normal driving safety simply because there are a lot more factors to consider.
Slow and steady - Snow can significantly decrease your visibility, and ice can turn a well-known road into a treacherous commute. The first rule in these inclement driving conditions is to take it slow. You may arrive late, but not as tardy as you would if you have an accident.
Planning for icy hills - If you can, plan your route to avoid hills. If you have to drive up or down hills, there are a few things to keep in mind. When driving down a hill, don't slam on your brakes—that will result in an uncontrolled slide. Brake slowly and evenly, and if you still find that you are sliding, shift into a lower gear. If you are still unable to stop and there is a chance that you will slide into other cars, honk your horn to at least alert other drivers.
When driving uphill, try not to stop. If you stop on an icy hill, it can be difficult to get started again, and you may find that you have to turn around, go back down the hill, and try again. Stop signs can make this tricky, so if you happen to be crossing a hill, look for cars coming up (or down) and give them the right of way. A little extra courtesy in winter driving can truly mean the difference between someone getting home and someone being stranded by the roadside.
Icy patches and skids - This is always one of the trickiest of winter driving safety tips. It's easy enough to remind drivers to turn into the skid, but until you experience it, it can be hard to understand. If you do find your car sliding on ice or snow, do not slam on the brakes. Simply take your foot off the gas and turn into the slide. Why? The goal is to straighten your car so you can regain control. If you turn away from a slide, you risk sending your car into a complete spin, and there isn't much good that can come from that.
Driving when you can't see - If you don't need to drive in whiteout conditions, don't! It is difficult to know where you are on the road, and blowing snow can be disorienting and make it more challenging to stay on the road. If you do find yourself driving in whiteout conditions, there are a few things to bear in mind.
Drive with your low beams on. Just like fog, snow will reflect the light from your high beams giving you even less visibility than you already have. Another consideration is that if you can't see very well, other drivers won't be able to see you, either. If you can find a place to stop, make sure you are well off the roadway so another driver doesn't hit you by accident.
Another trick for highway driving in whiteout conditions is to "feel" the road. The center stripe on most interstates is a series of small divots where reflectors are placed. Likewise, some stretches of highway have a rumble strip on the median. You're better off in the middle of the road if it's possible. The regular interval of bumps can help you stay safely on the highway.
Above all, remember that the best winter safety driving tips only go so far. Your biggest defense in winter driving is to be aware of what is going on around you. You might be the best driver on the road, but you can't control the actions or decisions of other drivers. Right of way doesn't matter as much as getting to your destination.
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What winter driving safety tips would you add to this list? Share with us in the comments below.