Dealing With the Elements
The term "joy ride" does not apply when it's pouring and the wind is gusting. The best strategy for driving in bad weather is to avoid it. But if going out is necessary or you get caught in bad conditions once you're already on the road, follow these safe driving tips:
- Make sure your headlights are on. Many states require drivers to keep their headlights on if windshield wipers are on.
- Increase your following distance — if you're going slowly because of bad weather, is there really a point to being only 2 feet behind the car in front of you?
- Slow down. Braking takes longer on slippery roads — the slower you go, the easier it will be for you to maintain control and stop your vehicle.
- Make sure your car is prepared for the conditions (check your battery, antifreeze, windshield wiper fluid, windshield wipers, headlights, tires).
- Use caution near intersections. Never assume that because you have the green light or the right of way that the intersection will be clear — always scan ahead to spot potential hazards.
- Stay in one lane as much as possible — avoid unnecessary lane changes (don't go zipping in and out of traffic, passing people, etc.).
- Keep two hands on the wheel and two eyes on the road at all times.
BRRRRRRRaving the Snow and Ice
Driving a car is never "easy," but this is especially true in wintry weather. To hone your skills, ask someone with winter driving experience to take you to a vacant parking lot where you can practice driving, turning, and stopping in the snow.
If you must travel, keep your car gassed up so that the fuel lines don't freeze. Clear snow completely off the entire car (including the roof), remembering to sweep the taillights and headlights. Watch out for slow-moving vehicles like snowplows and sand trucks, and try not to get too close — the last thing you need in a snowstorm is a windshield full of sand. Also try to avoid passing these vehicles.
Put together a car emergency kit that contains:
- an ice scraper and a snow brush
- a bag of sand, salt, or cat litter (for traction if you get stuck in snow)
- emergency warning flares or triangles
- gloves or mittens
- a flashlight and batteries
- a first-aid kit
- booster cables
- nonperishable snack foods
- a candle and matches
- a cup in case you need to melt snow for water
If you get stranded, stay with your vehicle and call for assistance. Run the heater occasionally to keep warm, but avoid carbon monoxide poisoning by making sure your tailpipe isn't stuffed or blocked with snow or other debris.
Roads are dirty places. Between tires stirring up gravel and engines dripping oil and other fluids, a lot of oily and slick substances build up on roads. That's why roads are at their slickest almost immediately after it starts raining. The water brings those oils to the surface, making it sneaky-slick.
If you get caught in a slick situation and your car starts gliding or hydroplaning, don't panic or slam on the brakes. Keep a firm grip on the steering wheel, lift your foot off the accelerator, and let the vehicle coast (making sure not to turn the steering wheel) until you feel your vehicle get traction again.
To prevent hydroplaning:
- make sure your tires are properly inflated and have significant tread
- look for standing or running water and avoid it (if you can)
- go easy around turns
- keep your speed down: speed should match conditions
Be aware of thunderstorm warnings. If a thunderstorm starts while you're driving and visibility is poor, pull over and wait it out. Don't run the risk of being struck by lightning — stay in your car and pull off the roadway into a parking lot if possible.
Scorching Sun and Fuzzy Fog
One of the most vital parts of driving is visibility. Both bright sun and soupy fog can cause limited visibility. To combat that pesky fireball in the sky, always have UV sunglasses somewhere in the car. Consider getting polarized sunglasses as they help reduce glare and improve visibility. Your car's pop-down visor can help reduce glare as well.
Fog can be a little trickier to handle than bright sunlight. Fog can reduce visibility to less than ¼ mile. Fog can also trick you into thinking you're going slower than you really are, so keep the speed down. When you can't see far ahead, it's hard to see brake lights or traffic signs until you're almost upon them. And just because you can't see doesn't mean that your high beams will improve visibility. In fact, high beams reduce visibility in fog. If your car has fog lamps, though, use them.
No matter what's causing the bad driving conditions, just remember: Don't venture out if you don't have to.
Reviewed by: Kurt E. Gray, MS
Date reviewed: July 2012
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