Driving Safely This Winter

By on January 17, 2014

Brrr! Winter has announced its arrival in the Ham. The Polar front plummeted temperatures across the state last week, bringing some regions the coldest temperatures they have experienced in decades. While the weather has warmed up significantly since last Monday’s below freezing temperatures, winter is far from over.

Long-range weather forecasts for the Birmingham area predict that “winter will be colder than normal, with below-normal precipitation and snowfall in all but the northernmost part of the region.” Meteorologists anticipate that the coldest periods will occur mid-to late January and in early to mid- and late February.

Cold weather is not just associated with warm fires and mugs of hot chocolate. It can also have serious effects on driving conditions.

A study from the University of California, Berkeley, and School of Public Health reports that poor weather is associated with 7,000 fatalities, 800,000 injuries and more than 1.5 million car crashes nationally each year, with an estimated economic toll of $42 billion.

Adverse weather is involved in nearly 20% of highway fatalities, according to the report. The study also found that the most dangerous day to drive is the day after the first winter storm of the year, when people are unprepared to avoid driving or haven’t adopted safer procedures yet.

According to the Center of Disease Control, the most dangerous winter can be avoided with a little fore-sight.  Below are some tips to ensure a safe, stress-free driving experience this winter.

Make sure to have maintenance service on your vehicle as often as the manufacturer recommends. In addition, each fall, it it is important to:

  • Have the radiator system serviced or check the antifreeze level with a tester.
  • Replace windshield-wiper fluid with a wintertime mixture.
  • Replace any worn tires and check air pressure.

Be cautious about traveling. Listen for radio or television reports of travel advisories issued by the National Weather Service. Avoid traveling during bad weather or on ice-covered roads, overpasses, and bridges if at all possible. Also, make sure to check and restock the winter emergency supplies periodically. Most importantly, avoid making these dangerous mistakes:

  • Never pour water on your windshield to remove ice or snow. Shattering may occur.
  • Keep your cell phone on you when driving in case of an emergency.

If you do find yourself in a slippery situation, stay calm. Take your foot off the gas and brake gently. Most cars have anti-lock brake systems, so apply steady, constant pressure on the brakes and expect some bucking-that’s normal. For vehicles without anti-lock brakes, remember to pump the brakes.

If you do start skidding in one direction or another, turn your wheel gently in the direction you want your front end to go. Do not slam the brakes. That will make the situation worse. If the car starts to slide on a corner, smoothly accelerate to transfer the weight to the rear wheels, which lets you steer toward the skid and regain control. If the car uses rear-wheel drive, don’t accelerate too quickly, or the tires may over-spin completely out of the turn.

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