In this blog we’ll have a look at the main dangers of winter driving, how to get prepared, and a few safe winter driving tips to make sure your holiday and skiing seasons go off without a hitch.
Winter is just around the corner, and that means the weather is about to make driving more dangerous for the unprepared. Snow and ice on the roads, freezing rain, low visibility all add up to more road accidents. In the U.S, nearly 23% of all car accidents are weather-related. The number of cars that break down in the winter is nearly twice as high as in the summer and road conditions can be particularly challenging. But we’re here to help.
We all know that winter is a particularly hazardous for drivers, but what are the dangers, exactly? There are plenty of them:
Ice and black ice: Theses are your two worst friends during the winter months, and can give you plenty of difficulties steering, braking, losing traction and sliding. Black ice is even more treacherous because it’s very hard to notice: It tends to form at night or early in the morning, and, unlike regular ice looks like a puddle or a wet road surface.
Bad battery: Cold, wet weather and darker days puts a heavy strain on your battery. In all likelihood you’ll be using your lights, heater and windshield wipers a lot more than usual. Make sure your battery is up to the task.
Poor tires: It’s all about traction. Tires need to be in excellent condition, and equipped with the right treads, in order to make sure you have as much grip as possible. Some in the U.S. swear by “year-round” tires. Personally, I prefer the special winter tires (with or without studs, as per legislation in your territory) that all major tire companies produce. Get them on early – as soon as temperatures start to get down around 7°Celcius (45° Fahrenheit) – usually in November.
Low visibility: Fog, snow, heavy rain and ice on the windows all result in a dramatic drop in visibility. What we often forget is that not only do winter conditions limit your own ability to see the road and other drivers; they also limit your visibility to others. Even if you feel in control of your vehicle and fully aware of your surroundings, others may not feel the same way, which means you’ll have to be extra careful on their behalf.
The cold weather itself: This one’s easy to dismiss, right? Well, it might be—until you find yourself stranded with a dead battery or no fuel in the middle of the night. The one predictable thing about winter weather is that it’s unpredictable. Your car may be well prepared, but you need to remember that the cold is a danger to you, too.
Prepare yourself and your car for winter driving
Now that you know what to expect, it’s time to get ready and take the steps needed to ensure your own (and others’) safety.
- Winterize your car: Having the right equipment before winter starts is essential. Winter tires (and a spare!) are a must, of course, and snow chains can be a lifesaver if you’re going to be near deep snow (they are required by law in many territories). Have your antifreeze, windshield wipers, wiper fluid and battery checked and cleared for sub-zero temperatures. In addition to ice scraper/brush for your windows and lights, it’s also a good idea to store a small shovel, some salt or sand and even road flares in the trunk. Yes, the list is long, but missing anything on it is no fun when you really need it.
- Gearing up applies to you, too: Pack up whatever is needed to help you in case of emergency. A basic “winter survival pack” should contain, at the very least, a spare change of warm clothes, winter gloves and boots, a first-aid kit, blankets, flashlights and extra batteries, water and food or snacks. If you want to be even more thorough, consider packing a phone charger you can plug into the cigarette lighter, and maybe a spare phone battery. And if you need to take medication at regular intervals, be sure to keep some in your car, too.
- Planning: Know where you’re going, map your route ahead of time. When possible, let friends or relatives know where you’re headed. And, hey, check the weather forecast, too!
- Check everything before your hit the road: Clear your windshield and roof of snow and ice. Same with the lights. Look at the exhaust pipe to see if any snow or ice is blocking it. Check how much gas you have, your battery’s condition, your phone and so on. And remember: Never, ever warm up your vehicle in your garage or any enclosed area. Don’t use very warm or boiling water to defrost the outside of your vehicle; lukewarm water only—unless you feel like cracking the glass.
- Don’t rush: Driving in winter often takes longer than it does in other seasons, so take your time, plan and drive carefully.
- Stay put when in doubt: Sometimes staying where you are until the weather gets better is the best idea. You might be too tired to drive safely, the weather might be particularly capricious, you may be unprepared, low on gas, low on phone battery—whatever. If you’ve got a hunch that the weather might be too much and you really don’t have to go, then relax and stay put for a while.
5 safe winter driving tips
The best thing you can do to prepare yourself for winter driving is to take a specialized course. That’s what we require of all of our drivers for Davos, for example. (Read our blog on Davos security to learn more.) But if you can’t do that, then at least try to remember these safe winter driving tips:
- Avoid sudden decisions or actions when driving. Accelerate and decelerate carefully. Apply brakes gently if needed, and be mindful of sharp turns. If you feel your car skidding, steer carefully into it rather than slamming on the brakes.
- Hills can be particularly tricky. When possible, never stop fully when going uphill. Before heading downhill, reduce your speed and use your brakes only when necessary.
- Whatever your normal following distance is, double it. The increased distance gives you extra time to react in spite of road conditions.
- Should you become stranded, do not leave your vehicle. Use it as shelter instead. You should have all the equipment you need to remain safe until help arrives.
- Last, but certainly not least: Use your seat belt!