Winter Driving Hazards and How to Avoid Them
March 10th, 2020 by Fix Auto USA
Cold weather. Snow and ice on the road. High winds and snow flurries in the air. Winter has to be the most dangerous time of year to drive, right? It’s not. In terms of auto fatalities, the period of time between Memorial Day and Labor day is the riskiest time to be on the road. Nevertheless, winter driving hazards can be just as perilous as those in summertime.
6 Winter Driving Hazards You Definitely Want to Avoid
To stay safe, drivers need to understand the unique hazards of winter driving and how to avoid them.
1. Ice on the road.
Ice is the #1 winter driving hazard because it can be hard to see and can cause total loss of control of your vehicle. It occurs when the road is wet from rain, melted snow or other sources of water, and the surface temperature falls below freezing. Ice can remain on the road even as the air rises above freezing because it takes longer for the surface to warm up.
Two types of ice make driving on roads dangerous – surface ice and black ice. Both can prevent your tires from getting a good grip on the road, making it hard to steer and to stop. Of the two, black ice is more dangerous because its thin layer makes the road look wet instead of icy. It tends to form at night or early in the morning, and the road surface has a matte appearance rather than the glossy one that occurs with surface ice. Surface ice can usually be spotted in time to slow down or avoid it. Black ice often goes unnoticed until you hit a patch and you lose control of your car.
2. Poor visibility.
This winter driving hazard often has more to do with the condition of your vehicle than the road. Of course, it’s hard to see when driving in a snowstorm or when passing cars kick up snow onto your windshield. But, driver visibility can also be compromised on a cold, clear evening. This can occur for several reasons.
The primary reason is ice or snow buildup on your windshield and outside mirrors. It doesn’t take much to reduce your line of sight to unsafe levels. If you have an accumulation of snow on your hood or roof, it can also interfere with visibility by blowing onto your windshield. This is why many states have passed laws requiring drivers to remove snow and ice from their cars before they get behind the wheel.
Bad visibility can occur inside the car as well. If your heater or rear window defroster doesn’t work well, condensation on the inside of your windshield can make it almost impossible to see. If your heating system isn’t working well, get it repaired before winter arrives!
3. Low Tire Tread and Pressure
Cold air reduces the air pressure in your tires, which means tires that are properly inflated during warmer months may not have enough PSI during winter. To ensure proper pressure, auto safety experts recommend checking it more often when the weather is cold.
Worn tire treads are risky enough during the summer; they’re much more dangerous on roads covered with snow or ice. If you live in an area that receives a lot of snow for several months, the best option involves switching to snow tires and having chains in your car for severe road conditions. If you live in an area with light to moderate snow, you can usually get by with everyday tires as long as the treads are in good shape.
4. Battery Failure
This winter driving hazard has more to do with being unable to drive rather than road conditions making it unsafe to drive. Cold weather makes it harder for batteries to provide enough charge to get car engines started. The colder the temperature, the more charge it takes. Getting stuck out in the cold because your car won’t start can quickly turn into a bad situation if you aren’t prepared for it. To avoid this unpleasant scenario, carry jumper cables or a portable power source in your car, or include roadside assistance with your insurance policy.
5. Cold Temperatures
Cold weather can endanger you as well as your car, and there are many ways besides a dead battery that you can get stranded in sub-freezing temperatures. Auto safety experts recommend keeping an emergency kit in your car throughout the winter season. This should include blankets, dry clothing, a flashlight, flares, water, and snacks.
6. Salt on the Road
Most people don’t think of salt as a winter driving hazard. Yet, while it is effective at removing snow and ice from road surfaces, it’s corrosive nature can damage the exterior of your car, including the undercarriage. To avoid this kind of damage, wash your car frequently to prevent the salt from building up. It doesn’t take long for salt to eat through the paint and start causing rust on the underlying metal.
Getting Your Car Ready for Winter Driving Hazards
The first thing to do is to prepare your car to operate safely in cold weather before the first snowflake falls. This includes:
- Make sure your brakes, defroster, heater, exhaust system, and lights are all working as they should.
- Check your windshield wiper blades and replace them, if needed.
- Inspect your tires for low tread wear, cracks in the sidewalls, and other potential problems.
- Keep a set of snow chains in your vehicle throughout the winter driving hazard
- Get an oil change and switch to oil made for cold weather conditions.
- Check the age of your battery. Clean the connections and make sure the cables are on tight.
- Fill your radiator with a 50:50 mix of antifreeze and water.
Safe Driving Habits for Winter Road Conditions
Driving in harsh winter weather requires increased awareness and vigilance. Drive slower than normal and give yourself more time than usual to reach your destination. Pay more attention to the other cars around you. You never know when one might spin out right next to you. Create a big safety zone around your vehicle, so you can react in time if someone does.
Other ways to avoid winter driving hazards include:
- Increase the distance between your car and the one in front of you. Allow more stopping distance than usual to avoid slamming on the brakes, especially when going downhill.
- Drive slower and use extra caution on bridges, overpasses, and shaded spots where ice is likely to form. Do not use cruise control on snowy or icy roads.
- Keep your windshield and windows clear. Keep a snow brush or scraper in your car at all times.
- Drive with your lights on when driving in the snow (don’t use the high beams).
- Give snowplows a wide berth. The plow blades often extend several feet on each side of the truck, and you may not be able to see them.
- Keep your cell phone with you (don’t use it while driving), especially on long trips or in remote areas in case you need to call for help. Make sure others know your travel plans and route prior to departure.
Preparing yourself and your car to handle the many winter driving hazards all drivers face will help keep you, your loved ones, and other drivers on the road safe.
This blog post was contributed by Fix Auto Highlands Ranch, a leading industry expert and collision repair shop servicing the Douglas County.
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