Snow, ICE, Slipper When Wet

According to the Federal Highway Administration on Road Weather Management

Over 70 percent of the nation’s roads are located in snowy regions, which receive more than five inches (or 13 cm) average snowfall annually. Nearly 70 percent of the U.S. population lives in these snowy regions. Snow and ice reduce pavement friction and vehicle maneuverability, causing slower speeds, reduced roadway capacity, and increased crash risk. Average arterial speeds decline by 30 to 40 percent on snowy or slushy pavement. Freeway speeds are reduced by 3 to 13 percent in light snow and by 5 to 40 percent in heavy snow. Heavy snow and sleet can also reduce visibility. Lanes and roads are obstructed by snow accumulation, which reduces capacity and increases travel time delay.

Each year, 24 percent of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on snowy, slushy or icy pavement and 15 percent happen during snowfall or sleet. Over 1,300 people are killed and more than 116,800 people are injured in vehicle crashes on snowy, slushy or icy pavement annually. Every year, nearly 900 people are killed and nearly 76,000 people are injured in vehicle crashes during snowfall or sleet. Snow and ice increase road maintenance costs. Winter road maintenance accounts for roughly 20 percent of state DOT maintenance budgets. State and local agencies spend more than 2.3 billion dollars on snow and ice control operations annually. Each year, these road agencies also spend millions of dollars to repair infrastructure damage caused by snow and ice.

Traveling during winter is unavoidable for most areas. Even in the Pacific Northwest, winter conditions involve icy conditions and black ice, snow in the mountains, heavy water on the roadways, all make for extreme driving conditions. Making sure your car is prepared in advance is the beginning of being prepared for winter driving. Check the forecast and road conditions before driving to your destination. And knowing the following winter driving safety tips will help prepare you before you hit the road.

Stock Your Vehicle

Make sure your car is stocked with a winter driving survival kit. Necessary items include an ice scraper, a snow shovel and sand or road salt. It is also handy to make sure you have blankets, water, food, and other essential items in case you get stuck.

Winterize Your Vehicle

Check your tires. If heading over the mountains, make sure to have good snow tires and chains are often required. In the Pacific Northwest, good condition windshield wipers are essential. Make sure your windshield fluid reservoir is filled so you can clear snow and ice from your windshield. Keep your gas tank full so you can run your engine and stay warm if you get stuck or stranded. A full gas tank in extended cold weather can help minimize the amount of water vapor in your tank, which can freeze when temperatures drop. If possible, in cold weather, keep your vehicle in a garage. Use fuel additives, such as dry gas, to help eliminate water vapor that could freeze in your gas lines. Make sure to have a good battery.

Watching the Weather

When inclement weather is reported, make sure to monitor road and weather conditions. Check with local news stations or weather sites and check Department of Transportation’s website and cameras. Sign up for weather alerts to receive text messages and optional alerts for your area. Do not check your phone while driving and avoid all unnecessary distractions when you’re behind the wheel.

Driving for Winter Conditions

Clear snow and ice off your car, including your windows, mirrors, lights, reflectors, hood, roof and trunk. Drive with headlights on and be sure to keep them clean to improve visibility. Use caution when snow banks limit your view of oncoming traffic. Remember, speed limits are meant for dry roads, adjust your speed for the weather conditions and increase your following distances.  To maintain control of the vehicle, avoid using cruise control in snowy or icy conditions. Be extra cautious on bridges and overpasses as they are commonly the first areas to become icy, same with areas that receive little or no sunlight. Avoid passing snow plows and sand trucks because the drivers may have limited visibility and the road in front of them could be worse than the road behind.

It Happens – Breaking Down or Getting Stuck

Weather is a fickle and unpredictable part of driving, suddenly you will find yourself caught in a snowstorm and stranded or you might get stuck in snow, make sure  your car is safely out of harm’s way, stay in your car and wait for help. To say warm, run the car heater for 10 minutes every hour, make sure your exhaust pipe is clear of snow to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, open your window slightly to help prevent any buildup. Pull out your emergency blankets for added warmth. Stay hydrated. Stay off your phone and save your phone’s battery for emergencies.

Even experienced drivers can find winter driving challenging.  Just slow down, allow extra time to come to a stop, wear your seatbelt, keep your full attention to the road and be aware of changing conditions. Inform someone of your driving plans and routes in case of emergency. If unsure whether it is safe to drive,  wait until the roads improve. Safety should be our first priority.


Photo by Rémi Jacquaint on Unsplash