Community / Lifestyle

Driving this winter: What to expect, how to prepare, and how to be safe

You are far more likely to be in a car accident in the winter than in the summer, so be prepared for the bad weather that we know is coming. Here are some tips from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), AAA, and Dana Hall Assistant Director of Facilities and Director of Campus Safety, Tom Digiandomenico.

  • No one wants to break down in the cold, so make sure that your car is serviced and has been thoroughly checked for leaks, damaged hoses, or other worn parts. The NHTSA explains, “for gasoline-powered engines, it takes more battery power to start your vehicle in cold weather. For electric and hybrid vehicles, the driving range is reduced and the battery systems work better after they warm up.” So making sure that your battery is running smoothly and properly warmed up in the cold is key when driving in the winter.
  • There are two important parts in your car that are more essential in the winter than during other seasons. These are the windshield wiper fluid and proper tire inflation and tread. During the cold weather, windshield wiper fluid is used very frequently, so make sure you have completely filled your car’s reservoir before big snowstorms. The NHTSA says that you should have proper snow or all weather tires when driving in the harsh conditions. Having unworn tread and properly inflated tires can really make a difference in your ability to maneuver in the snow.
  • AAA states that “on the road make sure to keep your gas tank at least half-full to avoid gas line freeze up.”
  • To help prevent accidents when on slippery surfaces, slow down before you enter a turn and do not apply the brake while you are turning. While in the turn slowly accelerate and continue as you exit through the turn. If you start to skid, let up on the breaks and make sure you don’t pump unevenly while applying braking pressure. Accelerate and decelerate slowly on slick surfaces to help maintain traction. Don’t stop if you can avoid it to prevent you from getting stuck.
  • Knowing how your brakes react in the snow is essential when driving in the winter. Whether you have antilock brakes or not, the best way to stop is parallel braking. The NHTSA states that you should “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.”
  • AAA advises that you should not power up hills. “Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed down hill as slowly as possible.”
  • Watching the weather reports and knowing when a bad snowstorm is coming can help you plan for safe driving in the winter. Make sure that if you must drive to tell others where you are going and your estimated time of arrival. Mr. Digiandomenico advises drivers to “pay attention to news, weather and traffic reports before traveling. Stay home if you really don’t have to go out” and to “not rush, leave yourself extra time when traveling in bad weather conditions.”
  • In case you do get stuck, it is important that you are prepared. Make sure you have a snow shovel, ice scraper, jumper cables, flashlight, warm clothing, gloves, blankets, and extra food and water in your car.
  • Make sure that there is no snow or ice covering the side windows, windshield, or rear windshield as well as the lights, hood, and roof before driving. Even though Massachusetts does not legally require you to clear the snow off your car, state troopers can pull you over and cite you if you are driving an unsafe vehicle.
  • It’s harder to control or stop your vehicle on a slick or snow-covered surface. On the road it helps to increase your distance between your car and the next so that you’ll have plenty of room to stop. Mr. Digiandomenico says that you should “drive slowly and cautiously and be sure to brake early — it takes more time and distance to brake in wet and slippery conditions.” He also says that you should “Look further ahead in traffic than you normally do — this will allow you to react quickly to any potential problems ahead of you.”

Mr. Digiandomenico advises, “When driving around Wellesley or the Dana Hall campus, leave plenty of room for maintenance vehicles and snowplows. Stay back at least 200 feet and don’t pass. Remember, big trucks carrying plows make extra wide turns. On campus, we plow the main roads first, followed by the parking areas, secondary roads and driveways. Please stay off the roads as much as possible during snow storms to give the maintenance crews an opportunity to clear the roads properly.”

As long as you continue to follow safe driving habits and follow these simple tips, you will be able to stay safe and in control this winter.

For more information on winter driving check out the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website and the AAA website.

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