On the Road
DIRECTORATE OF ASSESSMENTS AND PREVENTION
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama
Driving during the winter season can be challenging for even the most experienced drivers. From 2011 to 2015, an average of 800 Americans died annually in car wrecks due to snow, freezing rain, sleet or ice, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Fortunately, a little preparation will go a long way toward helping you, as well as others on the road, avoid becoming a winter driving statistic.Preparing for winter
Vehicle preparation in the fall will help motorists avoid some winter-related problems. Get your vehicle inspected and winterized before the season starts. Go over your vehicle safety checklist, including the battery, lights, cooling system, windshield wipers and defrosters, floor mats and tires. Operators should practice installing tire chains before actually mounting them for use in icy and snowy conditions. Improperly mounted tire chains can be dangerous and may damage your vehicle.
Think ahead and stock your vehicle with supplies and emergency winter items such as warm clothes, gloves, boots, blankets, tire chains, a window scraper, snow shovel, reflective triangles and flashlight. For longer trips, it’s a good idea to carry a cellphone charger, water, food and necessary medicines. Keep at least half a tank of gasoline in the vehicle at all times, and have emergency contact numbers saved in your cellphone. It’s also important to always allow extra time for your trip.While driving
Before beginning your journey during winter weather conditions, ask yourself if the trip is absolutely essential. If so, make sure you listen to local and national radio for travel information and check local and national weather forecasts. Also let someone know your travel plans.
When on the road, stay alert. Expect icy conditions any time the outside air temperature reaches 40 F or lower. While you can see snow, ice isn’t always visible. Bridge surfaces and shaded roadways exposed to the wind can cool and freeze faster than the rest of the road. Black ice can also occur unexpectedly and catch drivers by surprise. Driving at a safe speed on potentially icy roads (45 mph/70 kph or less) while avoiding sudden braking, acceleration or rapid turns will decrease the possibility of losing control. The faster you travel, the more difficult it will be to correct your vehicle in the event of a slide. If your vehicle does skid or slide on ice, remember the following three steps:
- Don't hit your brakes. Braking triggers slides and makes existing slides worse.
- Turn into the slide. Turn your wheels in the direction the back of the vehicle is sliding.
- Don't panic or overcorrect. Doing so may send the car into an unrecoverable spin.
General tips for driving in the snow include:
- Clear your windows and mirrors of snow and ice before you set out.
- Know your brakes. Whether you have antilock brakes or not, the best way to stop is threshold breaking. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.
- Avoid sudden braking, accelerating too quickly and harsh steering in slippery conditions.
- Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slower to meet conditions.
- Don’t overpower your vehicle up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little momentum going before you reach the hill and let that carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed downhill as slowly as possible. Don’t stop while going up a hill.
- When driving at night, leave your headlamps on low beam when driving in snow or fog. This practice minimizes the reflection and glare, improves visibility and reduces eye fatigue.
- If visibility becomes poor, find a place to safely pull off the road as soon as possible.
In an emergency:
- Stay with your vehicle if you become stuck. Only leave your vehicle if it is in an unsafe location where there is a risk of being struck by other vehicles on the roadway. Your vehicle is typically the best possible shelter and makes it easier for rescuers to locate you.
- Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna or place a cloth at the top of a rolled-up window to signal distress. At night, keep the dome light on if possible. It only uses a small amount of electricity and will make it easier for rescuers to find you.
- Use whatever is available to insulate your body from the cold. This could include floor mats, newspapers or paper maps.
- If possible, run the engine and heater just long enough to remove the chill and to conserve gasoline.
- Make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t clogged with snow, ice or mud. A blocked exhaust could cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to leak into the passenger compartment with the engine running.
If you really don’t have to go out, don’t. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can. Driving safely begins before you even get on the road. Plan accordingly to protect yourself and your loved ones.