As the temperatures start to drop and we prepare ourselves for another winter, it’s the perfect time to educate yourself on the importance of defensive driving. Before you know it, the roads will be a mess and it will be much more challenging to navigate safety each day. Here are some tips to keep you and your family safe when you venture out this winter.
- Make good decisions. Above all else, it’s important to make a well thought out decision before you hit the road. Ask yourself if your reason for getting behind the wheel is absolutely necessary or if it can wait until the snow, sleet, hail, or rain eases up. If you don’t absolutely have to go out, then stay in the safety of your home. Even if you have a vehicle that dominates in any kind of weather, you still have to worry about the other drivers.
- Brake awareness is key. We typically think of the brake as the part of the car that will save us, but, when it comes to bad weather, the brake can be your worst enemy and you need to apply pressure with caution. When you accelerate and decelerate, do so slowly and try not to be in a hurry, even if you find your tires swerving. Patience is a virtue when it comes to braking and you’ll want to allow for more break time when the weather is poor, so slow down long before you reach a stoplight. By knowing your brakes well, you will be able to better navigate when to brake and how much pressure is needed to slow you down.
- Avoid using cruise control. While cruise control is a convenient tool on long trips, it has a tendency to raise your chances of hydroplaning because you are going at a constant speed. Vehicles today are pretty advanced, but we still haven’t reached a point where the machine can sense when the roads are slippery and slow down on their own. It’s up to you, the human, to make proper judgment when it comes to your speed.
- Don’t power up hills in the snow. When you apply extra pressure to the gas while you are attempting to go uphill on a snow-covered road, your wheels will spin. The key is to allow inertia to carry you to the top as much as possible. Once you reach the top, your speed will be reduced, and you can proceed down the hill as slowly and carefully as possible.
- Stay updated on the weather forecast. If you don’t have a weather app on your phone already, now is the time to download one. With the winter months fast approaching, it will be in your best interest to keep tabs on any upcoming bad weather. This is especially useful if you have a long road trip planned, because it’s never good to be surprised by weather while on the road. The beauty about these weather apps is that they allow you to see hourly updates, so you will always be in the know when you hit the road.
- Drive slowly and with caution. While you may think that the early bird catches the worm, if you are in any kind of rush when behind the wheel, you may never even make it to your destination. Start out by asking yourself if it’s absolutely necessary that you leave your house, and if you must get somewhere, then be sure to allow yourself double the time to get there. And we aren’t just talking about slowing down when you are in the midst of a snow storm, we are saying that you need to ease off the gas at the first signs of rain, sleet, hail, snow, fog, and windy conditions. Above all else, your vision is impacted the most when you are faced with challenging driving conditions and even if you can confidently say that you have 20/20 vision, bad weather is a whole other ball game. Not to mention the fact that slippery roads reduce the traction, which can cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
- Adjust your follow distance and time. When the pavement is dry and the conditions are considered stable, the rule of thumb is to stay three to four seconds behind the vehicle in front of you. That number should increase to eight to ten seconds when the weather conditions are poor. Just remember that following another vehicle too closely will not get you to the finish line any sooner, but might very well get you into a car accident.
While we’ve provided you with tips for navigating the winter roads, we also have advice that you should be aware of even before you hit the road. Never, ever warm up your car while it’s parked in a garage or any confined space. The carbon monoxide from the vehicle will immediately begin to gather. Once that carbon monoxide is in your body, it will take hold of your oxygen, thus leaving you short of breath. You’ll then find yourself lightheaded due to anoxia, which is a condition that occurs as a result of the organs being deprived of oxygen. From that point, the entire body begins to shut down, and in most cases, death is the end result. If this isn’t enough of a warning for you, Google “how many deaths have been caused by warming up a vehicle in a garage”. The search results will scare you!
Another tip to follow before you get on the road is to make sure that your gas tank is full, and there are several reasons for this. When you leave empty space in your gas tank, you are just asking for trouble. This empty space can cause condensation to form, and in the cold weather that condensation can freeze, causing icy fuel lines which lead to car that won’t start. This is especially true if you are parked somewhere for a long period of time or spending the night in an area you aren’t familiar with. Keeping your tank full will also prevent having to pay hefty repair bills, that could result when dirt gathers in the empty part of the tank, blocking your fuel filter, which will land you right in the repair shop. Fuel pump failure is another common side effect of a semi-filled gas tank. When your gas tank is low, the pump gathers air to generate heat, but over time, that heat can lead to the collapse of the fuel pump.
As you can see, preparation is key when it comes to traveling during our harsh New England winters. Our climate changes quickly so we need to be sure to add a few additional safety items in our trunks before the really bad weather gets here. Blankets, gloves, hats, extra food and water and an emergency kit should be in the trunk of all vehicles before the winter takes hold. These items will hopefully never be needed but if they are they could be life savers. Be safe!
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