I have been watching the weather reports closely lately, waiting for the dreaded forecast and the advice to “break out your shovel.” So as not to be caught unprepared, we should all start thinking about and practicing winter driving now.
First, have the car winterized. Make sure all fluids are topped off and the tires are in good shape or have winter ones put on. I put studded tires on a few winters ago and can’t imagine not having them now.
Even if you don’t drive far in the winter, you never know when the unexpected can happen, so keep a blanket for warmth and snacks such as crackers, nuts and raisins in the trunk. A fluorescent orange or red cloth tied to the antenna can make you more visible on the side of the road.
Make sure your cellphone is fully charged. This in no way is meant as an emergency survival kit, it just makes waiting for the tow truck a little more comfortable.
The National Safety Council and the Bureau of Highway Safety want to help you get to your destination in one piece. Here are some common-sense reminders to help you get through the winter:
• Keep a safe following distance. Count four seconds from when the rear bumper of the vehicle in front of you passes a mark, such as a telephone pole, until your front bumper passes that same point. That is how much space should be between the two of you.
• Always assume you could hit ice and make allowances for it, especially at night, when it is hard to see the road clearly and when crossing bridges or overpasses.
• Keep sunglasses with you at all times as the sun bouncing off the snow and wet road can be blinding. There are clip-on varieties or get the disposable type from your eye doctor that slip behind your glasses. Not fashionable but very effective — and cheap.
• Clear all the snow off your car, all of it, even though it may be tempting to sweep away just enough to see oncoming cars. Have you ever been hit with a flying sheet of snow coming off the car in front of you? It can be very scary and dangerous. It is also unsafe for you as roof snow can slide onto the windshield when the car warms up enough to loosen it.
• Keep your car lights on so you can be seen by other drivers.
•Keep your windshield wipers free of ice and snow and replace at the first sign of streakiness. Winter wipers may be a good investment as they are wider and thicker and move more snow.
• Having a four-wheel-drive vehicle is not a free pass to avoid safety rules. You may encounter drivers who are not practicing defensive driving because they are in trucks or SUVs and think nothing can touch them. Keep your distance. Sometimes a false sense of security can spell disaster.
• Pay close attention to other drivers and how they are maneuvering the roads. Have a plan and be prepared to get out of the way should they start skidding.
• Keep an eye on the temperature. Even a little melting can make the roads a lot slicker. Keep salt in your car in case the walkway at your destination is icy. Not everyone is diligent about safety.
• Finally, slow down, and have some patience. Better to get somewhere a little late than not at all.
While you might be the best driver in the world, chances are you’re not going to meet consistently like-minded motorists on the road, so be careful and be safe. Keep these tips in mind when the white stuff starts to fall.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at EAAA. Email Higgins Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, email email@example.com or visit http://www.EAAA.org. TTY 992-0150.