Keep Going in the Snow
MASTER SGT. RAYMOND CADORET JR.
Joint Force Headquarters
Rhode Island Army National Guard
North Kingstown, Rhode Island
Driving is a challenging task. Traffic, road construction, rain, kids making noise, the radio and ringing cellphones can all be very distracting. Couple that with wintry roads, black ice, snow and sleet and you’ve added a whole new element to driving. Toss in those four-wheel-drive owners who think they can still go 60 mph on these roads and the risks rise considerably. While you can’t control the weather or other motorists, you can apply risk management to reduce your driving risks.
First, identify the hazards. Among those are things such as black ice, snow accumulation and other traffic, including snowplows and vehicles spreading sand or salt. Checking your local weather forecast and road conditions can help keep you on top of these hazards.
Second, assess the hazards. Examine each one in terms of its probability and severity should an accident happen. Consider historical lessons learned, experience levels and judgment. If you’ve had an accident driving on icy roads, you know the possible consequences. Ask yourself, “Is this trip necessary?”
The third and fourth steps — developing controls and making risk decisions, and implementing controls — can begin well before the first snow falls. One important part is winterizing your vehicle. Here’s what you can do:
One of the most overlooked parts of vehicle maintenance is replacing the windshield wiper blades. Automobile experts recommend these be changed annually because torn, cracked and dry-rotted blades can fail to keep your windshield clear when driving through rain, sleet or snow. Also, fill your windshield washer reservoir with a fluid designed for the cold temperatures. If needed, you can supplement your washer fluid with concentrates designed to keep your windows clear at extremely low temperatures. Keep an extra bottle of fluid in your vehicle so you won’t run out in the middle of a trip.
Check your battery and charging system. Overlooked batteries can lose power when temperatures drop, making it hard to start your vehicle.
Tires are also a vital part of safe winter driving. Maintaining the best possible traction with the roadway is crucial in determining how well your vehicle rides, turns and stops. Make sure your tires have plenty of good, deep tread and are properly inflated. Remember, your tire pressure drops about 1 psi for every 9 degree drop in temperature. While you’re at it, check your spare tire for proper inflation and ensure you locate your jack and the other equipment you’ll need for changing tires.
Check your radiator to make sure it has the proper amount of coolant and has been properly serviced. It is important to have the radiator flushed and the coolant changed periodically. Your owner’s manual will tell you when that needs to be done. Many antifreeze products are pre-mixed; if yours isn’t, a 50-50 mix of coolant to water is normally appropriate. When in doubt, check your owner’s manual.
Watch your fuel level, keeping your tank at least half full to reduce moisture buildup inside the fuel tank. Knowing you have enough fuel can give you peace of mind when stuck in traffic. Remember, as long as you have fuel, a properly maintained engine can idle indefinitely, keeping you warm inside your vehicle. Make sure you keep a window open slightly for proper ventilation.
In case of emergency
There are some useful items I recommend you keep in your trunk, including a blanket or two, snow shovel, some cat litter or sand for traction, fire extinguisher, an old pair of boots, jumper cables, proper-fitting tire chains, flares and a first aid kit. And, of course, you’ll need a snow brush and ice scraper to clear off your windows, mirrors, headlights and brake lights. This will help you to better see and be seen by others. Warming up your car before driving is also a good idea. This allows your oil and coolant to reach operating temperature and your heater to warm up and clear your windows.
On the road
Everyone knows hurrying increases the risk of an accident, so allow yourself extra time to get to your destination. When driving in snowy conditions, allow extra stopping distance when approaching intersections. Start braking early just in case you begin sliding on the snow or ice. On primary and secondary roads, increase your following distance to allow ample stopping time in poor weather.
You can use your vehicle’s transmission to help maintain control. By downshifting a manual or automatic transmission, you can use your engine’s braking power to help slow you. Some newer automatic transmissions offer a second gate for the shift lever that allows you to upshift or downshift through the gears as desired.
Don’t panic if you go into a skid. If your vehicle has an antilock braking system (ABS), brake firmly and steer in the direction you want to go. If you don’t have ABS, steer into the skid and avoid braking. A good tip to remember is to always look in the direction where you want your car to go.
Drive with low-beam headlights and, if possible, stay in the right-hand lane. Should you become stranded or stuck in snowy conditions, don’t panic. If blizzard conditions make it hard to see or you’re unable to shovel out of the snow, remain in your vehicle. Stay as warm as possible and limit your exposure to the wintry conditions.
Turn on your flashers or set up flares. Run the car in 10-minute intervals to provide heat while conserving fuel. Make sure your tailpipe is free of snow and open a window slightly on the downwind side of your vehicle to prevent the buildup of carbon monoxide. Use your blanket to help stay warm, but avoid falling asleep or staying in the same position for too long. Also, monitor yourself and other passengers for frostbite and hypothermia.
One last thing
The final step of risk management is to evaluate how well your control measures worked. Did you arrive at your destination without an accident? If you did have problems, ask yourself what you could have done differently and make that a part of your controls in the future.
Taking your time, maintaining good situational awareness and planning for the possible hazards on the road will greatly improve your chances of arriving safely at your destination this winter. And by the way, keep an eye out for those overconfident drivers who flew by you earlier. Chances are you’ll see them again a few miles up the road — in the ditch.