Driving in north country winters is a fact of life between November and April. We all need to grin and bear it and get through the long cold months.
Many of us have been doing it most of our lives, while for others, especially those new to the area, this could be their first real winter driving experience. Even the most seasoned driver needs a reminder, or two, about its hazards.
According to Carsurance, 17% of all auto accidents happen in winter conditions and more than 156-thousand crashes annually are due to icy roads.
“You can take your driving test in the middle of the summer and get your license, but that doesn’t mean you’re a great driver in the wintertime,” says Taylor Hoffman, Owner, Hoffman Auto, of Lake Placid, New York.
Considering how many car accidents occur in winter weather conditions, Taylor offers some helpful hints to get through the next several months.
INVEST IN WINTER TIRES:
Unlike all-season tires, winter tires are designed to push the snow and sloppy conditions away.
Okay, so a set of four winter tires can set you back $600 or more. But that’s a small price to pay to stay out of a fender bender or a more serious accident.
Taylor says, “Snow tires are such a big advantage to not only being able to get up hills or to be able to have good traction, but to also stop. That’s one thing that people don’t realize that when you come to an intersection that if you don’t have sufficient tires you could slide right through it.”
SLOW DOWN AND GIVE YOURSELF SPACE FROM THE CAR IN FRONT OF YOU:
That means giving yourself a little extra time to reach your destination. Allotting for extra time helps you avoid being late and removes the temptation of driving too fast for the conditions. The consequences of being late are far better than those of getting into an accident.
“Slowing down is huge. It’s definitely suggested to give yourself as much distance as possible between you and the car in front of you. The other thing is, is that you do want to be aware of what the car is doing in front of you, but also not fixating on that car,” remarks Taylor.
Also, be sure to give yourself enough time to properly clean your vehicle. Clean the snow and ice from your vehicle – windows, lights, mirrors, hood and the roof. Give the vehicle enough time to warm up and defrost icy or foggy windows.
Slowing down, giving yourself extra time and being relaxed all go together.
Taylor adds, “Make sure that you’re not tense while you’re driving, you need to be relaxed when you’re driving in the snow. The more abrupt you are with your movements the more the car is going to shift the way you don’t want it to.”
KNOW YOUR LIMITS:
After years of driving in winter conditions, some of us consider ourselves experts, but we’re really not. It’s important to know and understand your limits and those of the vehicle.
Taylor says when snow starts to fall, he’ll take his car to an empty parking lot to practice his winter driving. This gives him a better understanding as to how the car reacts on snow and in a skid.
Obviously, if the roads are that bad it’s best just to stay off them.
GIVE THE SNOWPLOW ROOM TO DO THEIR JOB:
We’ve all been “stuck” behind a snowplow and super annoyed that it won’t move out of our way to pass. But keep in mind that they have an important job to do.
When you find yourself behind one, you should really give yourself plenty of distance as there’s a lot of debris, ice and snow coming off the plow.
“When you’re in a rush you always want to get by a plow, you’re annoyed that the plow is there. These guys are working sometimes 12, 16-hour days to try to clear our roads in some of the worse conditions,” remarks Taylor. “Be mindful of that and not pass them or cut them off. Don’t drive too close or make them nervous, let them do their job.”
BE AWARE OF WHAT YOU’RE DRIVING ON:
Salt and sand are spread on roads to make driving safer. Salt lowers the freezing point of water so melting can take place. Sand alone does not melt any snow or ice. It provides a temporary increase in friction.
Taylor points out that salt and slush could fill the grooves in your tires… even snow tires. And once they’re filled, you could hydroplane on the slush which could cause your car to act in different manners than what you are used to.
CHECK OR REPLACE YOUR CAR BATTERY BEFORE WINTER:
The average lifespan for a new car battery is four to five years. The batteries sold in new cars are intended for warmer climates and it’s a good idea to have them checked or replaced before they become worn out.
“Use your judgement. If your battery is anywhere close to four to five years old, I would suggest replacing it, just to have a good strong battery in there so you’re not coming out to an unfortunate circumstance when you’re trying to get to work,” notes Taylor.
HAVE THE PROPER INSURANCE:
In the unfortunate event that you are in an accident, or your vehicle needs to be towed, it’s important that you have proper coverage. Even with a fender bender, it could cost you $300 to $400 just to get it towed to a facility and some people are not ready for that expense.
Taylor says, “Make sure you have roadside assistance, make sure you have an insurance agent that’s behind you that you can call when you have questions.”
Remember the number one way to avoid the risks of winter driving is to not place yourself in potentially dangerous situations in the first place. Know when the road and weather conditions are just too bad to attempt and stay off the roads.