Winter roads can be perilous and navigating them safely can be challenging, not to mention frightening. But being educated can make all the difference between being in an accident and arriving at your destination safe and sound.
Before winter weather strikes, be sure to have your car inspected and take care of any needed maintenance. Some things to look at:
• Fluid levels
Also, know your route: Consult maps and call ahead to your destination for road conditions. Be sure to have handy the list of road-condition hotlines and even program them in your cell phone if you have one.
Try to keep your gas tank as full as possible with a minimum of half a tank in the event you get stuck, to prevent fuel lines from freezing and to avoid lines at the gas station.
• Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for retraining traction and avoiding skids. Don't try to get moving in a hurry. And take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on icy roads.
• Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping, and turning - nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly.
• Typically on dry pavement the distance between cars should be about two to three seconds. On perilous roads, this should be increased to eight to 10 seconds. The increased margin of safety in front will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.
• The best way to stop is a technique called threshold braking: 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.
• Try to avoid stopping in full. It takes a lot of inertia to start moving from a full stop versus to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until the light changes, do it.
• Don't power-up hills by accelerating as you try to climb them. 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 it carry you to the top. When you approach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed down hill as slowly as possible.
• Don't stop going up a hill. There's nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road from a dead stop. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.
• Above all, if it's too dangerous, try to stay home. Avoid going out unless it’s absolutely necessary. Even if you’re skilled at driving in winter weather, not everyone is. Snowy roads and winter weather are always more attractive, and safer, from the indoors.
The National Safety Council, and Departments of Transportation for Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana give the following recommendations in the event you start to skid:
If your rear wheels skid...
• Take your foot off the accelerator.
• Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they're sliding right, steer right.
• If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.
• If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
• If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.
If your front wheels skid...
• Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don't try to steer immediately.
• As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return.
• As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in "drive" or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.
• Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
• Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
• Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out.
• Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.
• Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.
• Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner's manual first — it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you're in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.
• Do not leave your car unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to possible help, and are certain you will improve your situation.
• To attract attention, light two flares and place one at each end of the car a safe distance away. Hang a brightly colored cloth from your antenna.
• If you are sure the car's exhaust pipe is not blocked, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so depending upon the amount of gas in the tank.
• To protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia, use woolen items and blankets to keep warm.
• Keep at least one window open slightly. Heavy snow and ice can seal a car shut.