Prepare for winter conditions

Car problems that are a nuisance in the summer can turn dangerous in the winter. A thorough check of the cooling, charging, braking and suspension systems is a must; don’t wait until the first winter storm.
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 used to be called “turning into the skid,” but tests have shown that drivers often misinterpret these words in real-life situations.

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. Carry (and be able to install) traction-control devices like snow chains whenever you know you’ll be in a snowy area. Sometimes such devices are required, and if you don’t have a set, you’ll be forced to pay a premium to acquire them on the spot.

Know how to recover from skids

Take your feet off the brake and the gas. You will correct everything with the steering wheel. Turn the wheel in the direction of the skid. At some point the car will stop skidding, this is called a “pause”. At that pause you need to bring the steering wheel back to where it was to reduce the chance of going into a skid again. At that point you can resume your trip because you have done all the right things to correct a skid.

Winter wiper blades

Replace worn wiper blades with new winter blades. Many drivers replace the wiper blades annually when they put on their snow tires.

Clear all snow and ice

Visibility is crucial. Safe and responsible vehicle operation requires that front, rear, and side windows are clear. Snow left on the hood will blow onto the windshield and clog wipers as speed increases. Snow left on the roof will blow off and obscure the rear window and the windshield of the car behind. Clearing headlights and taillights will allow you to be seen.

Be prepared for anything

Even if you don’t become stuck, you may be parked or delayed for extended periods due to accidents, road closures, avalanches or poor visibility. Make sure you are prepared with adequate winter clothes, supplies and emergency equipment. At minimum, carry these essentials items: winter boots, gloves, hats, food, water, cell phone charger, a blanket or sleeping bag, shovel, flashlight (with extra batteries), tow strap, and jumper cables.

Know your car, know your brakes

In everyday driving situations, cars with both anti-lock brakes (ABS) and traditional braking systems are basically identical. In an emergency stopping situation, two distinctly different techniques are required. With traditional brakes, the pumping technique is effective, but the driver must lift off of the brake if steering is required to avoid an obstacle. The beauty of ABS is that pressing the brake pedal as hard as possible and holding it there allows the computer to pump the brakes while still maintaining some steering effectiveness. Remember that ABS can’t perform miracles. If you feel ABS engaging during every day driving, slow down, because you are exceeding the reasonable speed for the conditions.

Anticipate difficult situations

Studies have shown that 80 percent of all accidents could be prevented with only one additional second to react. In many situations, this one second can be gained by looking far enough down the road to identify problems.

Allow plenty of space between your car and other vehicles

It takes from four to ten times more distance to stop on ice and snow than on dry pavement. Following distances should be adjusted accordingly.

Use grip (traction) efficiently

When roads are slippery, use all of the grip (traction) available for one action at a time. Brake only in a straight line prior to the curve when the car is traveling straight. Taking your foot off the brake before you steer into the curve allows you to use all of the grip available just for steering. Accelerate only when you are able to straighten the steering wheel at the exit of the turn. This technique will allow you to be 100 percent effective at each maneuver – braking, steering and accelerating.

Be extra alert at intersections and on hills

Intersections and hills are typically the most slippery portions of the roadway. With numerous drivers braking in the same area, ice becomes ultra-smooth and polished. In the case of hills, drivers may be spinning tires in the same area with an identical result. By identifying these areas, drivers can brake or accelerate in areas that offer better grip, such as in fresh snow, or areas that are not so polished. When stopping on ice, brake harder early and then become lighter on the pedal as the car slows. This allows for precise adjustment in the event that a surprisingly slippery spot is encountered.

Turn on your headlights

Whenever daytime visibility is less than perfect, turning on your lights allows you to see, and just as important, to be seen by others. Use this rule of thumb: wipers on, lights on. When traveling in snowy weather, remember to clear your taillights, signal lights, and headlamps regularly. High-quality fog lights, mounted low and aimed properly, low and wide, offer a dramatic improvement in low-visibility conditions. Remember to turn fog lights off in city traffic; it’s not practical or polite to leave them on. When driving at night. Leave headlamps on low beam when driving in snow and fog. This practice minimizes reflection and glare, improves visibility, and reduces eye fatigue. When oncoming cars approach, focus on the right side of the roadway to help maintain good vision.

Learn to read the terrain

Bridges and overpasses ice over faster than normal roads because they don’t have the warmth of the earth underneath them. Shady areas cool more quickly than areas in full sun. At dusk or the onset of a winter storm, take notice of areas that never get direct sun and expect ice there. The shadows from large trees, buildings, mountains and even billboards can cause isolated icy spots. With just a bit of practice, drivers can identify these problem spots in advance.

Use floor mats for traction

The floor mats of most vehicles can be used as a tool if you are stuck. Simply turn the mats upside down and place them under the drive wheels as a traction aid.

SOURCE: Driving Skills for Life