Winter officially began December 21st, so we know there’s  a lot of winter ahead of us.  There were several areas in the U.S. that had some unusually cold weather prior to the first day of winter.  Many college students will be returning to school pretty soon, so we thought it would be a good time to remind them and holiday travelers to be extra-careful.  Those who are on the road every day can use these suggestions, too.

Weather forecasts are pretty accurate; however, we can sometimes be hit with a cold front unexpectedly.  Rain, snow, fog, and ice can change the way we drive.  Here are some winter driving tips:

  • Check weather conditions ahead of time Be sure to tell your family or friends the route you are traveling.  Inform them when you have arrived safely.
  • Drink plenty of water. When the weather is chilly, dehydration might seem unlikely, but as little as a 1-2 percent loss of body weight can lead to fatigue and reduced alertness — both of which can be deadly when you are driving in icy conditions. Carry (and drink) five to six 16-ounce bottles of water per day in a small ice chest in the car.
  •  Take rest stops. Winter travel is much more tiring than summer driving, so stop every hour or so. Get out, and stretch, walk around a little. Just five minutes will significantly improve your level of alertness. (Chances are, if you drink all that water, you’ll need those pit stops!)
  • Pack a winter travel safety kit. Keep your cell phone charged, an ice scraper and brush, a tow rope, cat litter (for use as a traction aid), blankets, a good flashlight, a candle, matches, a portable weather radio and a can of lock de-icer, gloves and extra set of warm clothes.
  •  Eat enough food. Your body needs more nutrition in cold weather than it does on a warm day. Sandwiches, fruit or a thermos of hearty stew are much better choices than candy bars and sweets. Carry a day’s worth of high-energy food in a warm area of your vehicle in case you are stranded for a few hours.          
  •  Don’t speed.  A good rule of thumb is to reduce speed by 50 percent in snowy conditions.  Equally important: Don’t go too slow. Your car needs momentum to keep moving through snow on grades.
  •  Don’t grasp the steering wheel too hard. Smooth operation is the key to keeping control in slippery situations. Nervousness can lead to a hard clench of the steering wheel, which can result in loss of control. Consciously loosen your grasp or stretch out your fingers from time to time to help prevent that tight grip.
  •  Keep your tires in good condition and properly inflated. Cold weather reduces tire pressure, so check and adjust frequently. Tire tread depth should be at least 1/8-inch, and good snow tires with lugs will outperform just about any all-weather tire on the market.
  •  Know how to recover from skids. When braking on a slippery road, it’s all too easy to “lock up” your wheels by stepping on the brakes a little too hard. If you start to skid, steer the vehicle gently in the direction you want the front of your vehicle to go and don’t touch your brakes. This previously was termed “turning into the skid,” but tests have shown that drivers often misinterpret these words in real-life situations. 
  •  If you get stranded, stay in your vehicle. Stay warm and wait for assistance. Many persons have made the mistake of trying  to walk for help, resulting in tragedy.  Ensure your exhaust pipe is clear of any obstructions, including snow and ice to keep carbon monoxide gas from building up inside the vehicle. 

If you know that weather conditions are going to be hazardous, don’t take any chances.  There will be another day you can get there more safely, and it’s not worth the risk of an accident.  Some drivers may not know how to drive in icy conditions, and could cause unintentional crashes.  Wait for the right opportunity to travel.  

When you see 18-wheel trucks sitting on the side of the road, that’s a pretty good sign that the road is not safe.  Follow their advice, and wait until it clears up.  Have your safety kit and food in your vehicle and pull over if this is the case.

Drive safely!