Thursday, December 6, 2012

Bring on Winter! 11 Winter Driving Tips

Winter is here! Or it'll soon be here. Or will hopefully start soon. 

I love winter. I love the snow, the frost, and the cold, dry air. One of my favorite things is being outside on a clear, cold day and having my nostrils freeze together with each intake of breath. Makes me feel alive! 

Driving in the snow and ice takes special care, and should never be done with complacency. Even if we have four-wheel drive, snow tires, or chains, we all must continue to drive with great caution and awareness. Don't forget: You are not invincible, but someone else on the road thinks they are.

Plowed street, Truckee, CA
(c) 2010 Car Mama
1) Pay attention to weather reports.  
I used to tease my dad about watching The Weather Channel all the time, but I'm more understanding now that I drive to the mountains regularly in the winter. As a farmer and a skier, weather forecasts will forever be something my dad needs to know. One of my favorite weather websites is Intellicast. It's also a great idea to find a local weather blogger to distill all the technical mumbo jumbo into every-day language. (In the winter, we read the Tahoe Loco Weather Geek every day.)

2) Take the advice of more experienced, local drivers. (i.e., the old guys at the local coffee shop or tire store)
Just because you can afford to drive a nice all-wheel-drive SUV, doesn't mean you know how to drive that SUV; especially on slippery roadways. Do everyone a favor and ditch the ego and learn how your vehicle responds in the snow and ice, and how to handle spinouts. Go to an empty parking lot that has snow and ice and test it out. Check with the local police or driving school to see if they have a winter practice course. Practice putting on your chains before you head to the ski hill. Read up on traction control, stability control, ABS, shifting into 4WD, and please find your fog lights.
Got Snow?
Snow drifts along driveway in Truckee, CA
(c) 2010 Car Mama

3) Always drive with your headlights AND taillights on. 
I abide by this even on sunny days and I wish more people would follow my lead. Some days, even your Daytime Running Lights (DRL) aren't enough. Most DRL are only headlights and can leave you invisible from behind. Also, many new vehicles in the US do not have DRL -- it's not a law here, but it should be.

White cars and fog or snow don't mix well. White cars without lights on in fog or snow can quickly equal disaster. I don't know why, but there seem to be more white vehicles in California than in any other state in which I've driven. Foggy mornings around here can be scary. Please turn on your lights like you do at night and eliminate that one variable from the accident equation. 

Stuck on Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. Feb 2011
4) Keep your gas tank at least 1/2 full all winter; 3/4 full is even better. 
You just never know what could happen. Remember all those Chicago drivers who got stuck on Lake Shore Drive last year? They were just driving home from work and got stuck. Be prepared.

5) Read these guidelines before you get stuck or stranded in the snow: 
Weather Safety Rules

6) Keep a fleece blanket, water, gloves, and cell phone charger in your car at all times.
You can throw in a few protein bars for good measure and snack emergencies. Fleece blankets are best because they stay warm even when wet. (Have you ever fallen asleep under one? They are super warm and sweat-inducing.) You can never have too many pairs of gloves in a vehicle. You'll be happy that you have extras if you have to put on chains and one pair gets filthy dirty and wet.

Followed "shortest route" suggestion on GPS. Oops.
7) Remember: There are hundreds of inexperienced and distracted drivers on the roads every hour of every day. 
Therefore, you should be experienced and never distracted.

8) Use common sense over your GPS-suggested "shortest route." 
Our Tom Tom is set with Homer Simpson's voice, and while Homer usually gets the directions correct, he can't see the weather or road conditions. So use your brain and your eyes and stay safe.

Winter in Marin County, CA. Not too bad.
(c) 2012 Car Mama
9) Don't use your phone to talk or text or check the weather while driving. Period. In any weather.
Even using a Bluetooth device in your ear or your vehicle's handsfree phone system can still be distracting. Doubly distracting when it's rainy, snowy, or foggy. Please keep your hands on the wheel and your focus on the road.

10) Don't wash your car if the temperature is, or will be, below 32*F.
When my husband and I were dating, we lived in Minnesota. He's always been very thoughtful and he wanted to have a freshly washed car when we went out on a date one January evening. It was nose-numbing cold outside, likely below 0 (just the way I like it), and when we came out of the movie he couldn't get his Toyota Tercel unlocked (we used keys to unlock doors in those days). The lock was frozen. He bought some lock deicer at a Walgreen's and the only lock that would open was the hatchback. By this time, all my attempts at being lady-like were gone and I crawled through the hatchback and unlocked the driver's door from the inside. We were numb from head to toe, but had a good laugh and now have a good story to tell.

11) If you find snow drifts, park in a safe spot and have fun.
When I was a kid in Montana we took advantage of the awesome snowy weather every day. If we weren't skiing or at school, then we were making snowmen, jumping off drifts, or trying to build forts. My brother and I had a great childhood! (Thanks, Mom and Dad!)

What a great life!
Having fun with my big brother and a big drift.
(c) Donel Nelson

My brief list of good snow vehicles I've reviewed:

Be safe and have a wonderful winter!

(c) Copyright 2010-2016. Erika JN Fish. Car Mama. All Rights Reserved.

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