BOISE – With freezing temperatures and snow expected in the coming days, AAA says it’s time to get ready for winter driving. According to AAA’s previous research, severe weather conditions are a contributing factor in half a million crashes and over 2,000 deaths nationwide each year.
Winter driving in the Gem State often means navigating through snow, reduced visibility, and slick surfaces. Drivers should be especially careful on bridges, curves, and shaded areas. In bad weather, drivers should reduce speed and increase their following distance to 8 to 10 seconds. Motorists should also avoid stopping or suddenly accelerating on hills whenever possible.
“Winter driving is a skill that can diminish with lack of use,” says AAA Idaho public affairs director Matthew Conde. “If it’s been a while since you drove on snow and ice, take a page from the old driver’s ed days and practice in a big, empty parking lot.”
Drivers should expect temperatures and road conditions to fluctuate dramatically at different elevations, and plan accordingly.
Tips for Drivers
- Know before you go. Check traffic cameras and weather alerts to pick the safest route. Travel on well-maintained roads and consider the skill level of other drivers – you may be sharing the road with people who aren’t as prepared for the conditions.
- Get plenty of sleep. AAA research shows that drivers who only sleep between four and five hours a night may drive similarly to those with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit.
- Stay focused. Watch for downed tree limbs, potholes, and other vehicles that are sliding, and give yourself plenty of time to react.
- Communicate. Make sure other road users know what you’re doing.
- Keep calm. Keep your eyes and attention on the road and ditch the distractions.
- Change your posture. Adjust your seat position so that you can make smooth, precise movements and easily reach the pedals.
- Select layered clothing that provides warmth, comfort, and freedom of movement. Never attempt to add or remove layers while the vehicle is in motion.
- Insist that everyone wear their seatbelt at all times.
- Never blindly follow your GPS. If a road doesn’t look properly maintained, turn around.
Getting Your Vehicle Ready for the Road
- Keep the pandemic in mind. Make sure you have face masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes on hand in case you need them.
- Check hoses and fluid levels. Make sure connections are secure and free of leaks. Check hoses for any signs of splitting or cracking – they move the life-blood of your vehicle.
- Give your battery some attention. If your battery is three years old or older, ask a local repair shop or auto parts store about a complimentary diagnostic test. The last thing you want is a car that won’t start on a dark and stormy night.
- Check windshield wipers and washer fluid. If you see signs of skipping or streaking, check the wiper blades for debris or tears and replace as needed. Use a washer fluid with de-icing properties. Clear away snow from the windshield, side mirrors, side windows, hood, roof, brake lights, and headlight lenses before you hit the road.
- Get a grip. To make sure your tires are ready for the road, use the quarter test. Turn the quarter upside down in the tread – if you can see the top of George Washington’s head, it’s time to think about replacing your tires.
“Winter tires stay soft in cold conditions, with deep channels to wick away slush and moisture,” Conde said. “All-season tires aren’t nearly as effective when the treads become clogged, so it’s a good idea to also carry chains.”
- Pack the essentials. Extra clothing, food and water, a sturdy ice scraper, a basic first-aid kit, jumper cables, a flashlight with fresh batteries, basic tools, and flares or reflective triangles are great additions to a winter safety kit. Sand, kitty litter, or even your floor mat can help restore traction in an emergency. If you need to walk around on slick surfaces, slip an extra pair of socks over your shoes for added traction.
“If you are involved in a crash, maintain social distancing, even while exchanging information,” Conde said. “Use your cell phones to document damage and to photograph each other’s insurance and driver’s license information rather than writing everything down.”
If you start to slide, focus on steering over braking, and continue to steer in the direction you want to go. If necessary, downshift to a lower gear to reduce speed and re-establish steering control.
Remember, it’s normal for anti-lock brakes to pulsate rapidly when the wheels start to lock. Don’t remove your foot from the brake or pump the brakes, as you’ll interfere with the system’s effectiveness. Drivers who don’t have anti-lock brakes should use the ball of the foot to apply pressure to the brake and ease up when the wheels lock up.
If you’re waiting for help, remain calm, and stay with your vehicle if it is safe to do so. Flash your emergency lights, and if appropriate, lift the hood or tie something bright to your vehicle to signal that you need help. If you need to occasionally run the engine to keep warm, make sure the tailpipe is completely clear of snow and other debris.
“Communication is a big part of winter safety,” Conde said. “Share your travel plans with others who can act on your behalf if you fail to arrive at your destination on time.”