Driving in the winter means snow, sleet and ice that can lead to slower traffic, hazardous conditions and unforeseen dangers. A slick highway road can easily lead to a tragic accident due to hydroplaning. Of all dangerous weather conditions to drive in, wet pavement accounts for 5,500 yearly deaths.
Just a week ago, there was a driver in Salt Lake City who had lost control as he was driving on slick conditions. His car plunged down a 10-foot embankment and flipped over in the Logan River. If not for the 10 strangers driving by who courageously jumped into the icy river to free the three children trapped inside, this story might not have had a happy ending. Fortunately, the rescuers helped turn the car upright and were able to free the children.
There are a few simple steps one can take to avoid a tragic situation. First and foremost – always buckle up. No matter what the weather is, everyone in the car should have their seat belts fastened.
Eliminate all distractions. Driving demands our full attention. Know your car. Make sure your tires have the proper air pressure and good tread. Low tire pressure cuts fuel mileage, steering and braking traction, which is especially important when driving on slippery roads.
Always make sure you can see and can be seen. Clear all windows and outside mirrors; turn on headlights to low beam (even in daylight). Be on the lookout for hazards, such as traffic tie-ups, slippery hills or any other situation where you may need to stop. Slow way down, leaving plenty of following distance behind the next vehicle – at least six to eight seconds on slippery roads, and try to leave an “out” to one side.
Accelerate, brake and steer slowly and smoothly. Jerky motions increase the risk of skids. Apply steady braking. Do not pump the brakes in vehicles without antilock brakes. Keep steady pressure on unless the wheels lock, then ease up on the pedal just enough to regain traction.
Rolling wheels have more traction than locked wheels. Keep pressing the pedal firmly and steadily. Pumping brakes will remove any benefits they provide. Recover from a skid without panicking. If you start to skid, stay off the brakes and don’t shift gears. Simply look and steer in the direction you want the car to go.
When the skid is over, you will be better able to move the car to a safe spot and calm down before resuming your trip. Don’t use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads. Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and roads that are not traveled frequently, as they will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if conditions are wet, you could encounter ice in shady areas.
Never pass snow plows or sanding trucks as these drivers have limited visibility. You are more likely to find the road in front of the plows worse than the road behind. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads, so do not assume your vehicle can handle all conditions.
Remember, road safety is a state of mind; accident is an absence of mind.