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The Safe Winter Driving Cheat Sheet

Winter conditions present challenging obstacles to all drivers, but these conditions are especially daunting for inexperienced drivers. Common winter dangers can include icy roads, strong winds, reduced visibility and blizzard conditions. Extra precautions before and during a winter trip can help new drivers stay safe and feel less anxious when winters storms unleash their fury.

Vehicle Preparation

Regardless of the current weather conditions, drivers should ensure that their cars are ready before heading out onto the roads in the winter. If a snowstorm recently passed through the area, the driver should clear her car completely using a brush and ice scraper. In addition to clearing the windows, the driver must also clear her car’s lights to help with visibility. Finally, drivers should also keep up with their regular maintenance. Harsh winter conditions can make breakdowns more likely, and dealing with emergency maintenance during the winter can be a miserable experience.

Car tires also play a critical role in avoiding accidents during the winter. Drivers who live in particularly snowy regions may want to invest in a set of snow tires; these tires are designed to provide extra grip in snowy conditions and may include metal studs. All drivers should check their tread wear periodically, especially in the winter. Worn-down tire treads don’t grip the road well, potentially causing accidents in slippery conditions.

Drivers should also pack a few important items in their cars for emergencies. For example, blankets and flashlights are potentially lifesaving for drivers who are forced to hunker down in remote areas due to heavy snowstorms. A shovel and a small broom can help a stuck driver get out of a snowbank. Snacks and water bottles can provide sustenance in case of any emergency or disaster. Finally, tire chains can help drivers deal with challenging winter road conditions, especially in mountain passes.

Check Current Conditions

Even experienced drivers know that it’s best to avoid driving during extreme winter conditions. For new drivers, checking on the current conditions is essential before heading outside. Apps and websites from state transportation departments usually provide real-time updates on road conditions. Checking the weather forecast is also a good idea. If conditions are simply too dangerous, it’s best to seek an alternative mode of transportation until conditions improve.

Take it Slow during the First Snow

Drivers can’t expect to maintain their usual speeds when the season’s first snow begins to fall. To stay safe, drivers should stay within the legally posted speed limits; in especially challenging conditions, even the speed limit might be too aggressive. It’s also important for each driver to maintain sufficient space between his car and the cars around him; lane changes should also be minimized. Sudden stops and sharp turns can easily cause even the most experienced driver to lose control of his vehicle.

How to Handle Ice

Some drivers may feel that they are in no danger if the snow isn’t currently falling. However, the road could be covered in an invisible and deadly danger: black ice. Black ice is similar to normal ice, but black ice easily blends into the road, making it difficult to recognize. Black ice typically forms during the coolest parts of the day, and it’s especially common during the night. Tunnels, bridges and shaded areas are common places where black ice forms; however, black ice can form anywhere when temperatures drop below freezing.

For many people, slamming the brake pedal is their first and only reaction to driving over a patch of black ice. However, this solution can actually worsen the problem. Altering the vehicle’s speed or direction while driving over a patch of ice can easily cause the tires to lose traction. Instead of using their brakes, drivers should aim to drive their cars straight over any ice patches. If the car begins to slide, it’s best to gently turn the wheel in the direction of the slide. By remaining calm while driving over an ice patch, inexperienced drivers can avoid an accident.

However, sometimes even these simple tips might not be enough to prevent the car from skidding. If a driver feels that she is losing control of her vehicle, she can begin pumping her brakes to slow the vehicle. While slowing her vehicle, the driver should try to guide the car towards something that won’t cause extensive damage, such as an empty field. After coming to a stop, the driver should get emergency help. If the driver doesn’t need help, she may still want to wait for conditions to improve before attempting the road again.

In the winter, drivers must face a number of dangers, such as getting stuck in a snowdrift or slipping on a patch of ice on the road. Good preparation and learning how to drive during challenging conditions can help a new driver avoid accidents.