Driving in the snow and ice is a stressful proposition, even for the most seasoned drivers among us. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that nearly 17% of all car crashes happen in the winter. Here are some of the most common winter driving hazards. And, of course, some tips to help you travel safer during the cold weather months.
Problem: loss of traction
Solution: winter tires
Wet, icy, and snowy conditions can lead to a host of traction issues: slipping or spinning tires, skidding, hydroplaning, and even crashing. Switching from all-season (or summer tires) to winter tires can help give you improved traction and grip on ice and snow. If you live in a place where you’re doing serious snow driving year after year, it might be worth the investment.
Problem: stranded in the snow
Solution: pack a winter driving kit
Sometimes it’s unavoidable: your car’s stuck in a snow bank or you breakdown and need to wait for a tow in low temps. These situations can be especially worrisome in remote locations or during storms, where exposure to low temps can become a serious issue fast. Packing a winter driving kit can help buy you peace of mind and prove lifesaving in the event of an emergency. Some essential items you’ll want in your kit: warm clothing (including a blanket), a shovel or de-icer, extra water and non-perishable high-energy foods, a flashlight, and a spare battery for your cell phone. You should also try to keep close to a full tank of gas at all times during the cold months.
Problem: dead battery
Solution: winter battery maintenance
When temps get extreme, old batteries die. At the start of the season, have your car battery professionally evaluated to get a sense of its remaining life (tests may include load testing, an electrolyte check, and having connections checked for signs of wear or corrosion). If the battery isn’t meeting standards, it should be replaced. As an extra precaution, keep a working set of jumper cables in your car at all times.
Problem: black ice
Solution: avoidance and awareness
Black ice has a special reputation as one of winter’s most harrowing hazards. You can help mitigate your risk by learning to expect black ice in certain situations: in the early morning or late at night, when the sun isn’t warming the roads, or on bridges and overpasses during freezing temps. Look out for smooth, glossy surfaces on the roadway (pavement that isn’t icy, by contrast, usually has a dull, flat appearance), which is the hallmark of black ice. Reduce your speed during icy weather, use your headlights, and stay alert while driving at all times.
If you hit a patch of black ice: don’t panic. Avoid slamming the brakes. Instead, take your foot off the gas, shift into a lower gear, and do your best to slide over the ice, keeping your steering wheel straight, making only gentle turns in the direction of the slide or skid if you feel the back end of your car start to slide. If possible, you’ll also want to steer the car toward areas that appear to have higher traction, like sandy spots or textured ice.