Beware Black Ice: Tips For Safer Winter Driving

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5 September 2023

Beware Black Ice: Tips For Safer Winter Driving

Winter is a beautiful season. It's also a dangerous one. Every winter there are half a million car crashes on U.S. roads that result in over 130,000 injuries and more than 1,800 deaths.

That is hardly surprising given that over 70% of U.S. roads are in high snowfall regions that receive over five inches of snow annually, and almost 70% of the population lives in these regions.

Despite the inherent dangers of winter driving, there are ways to keep you and your passengers safe. Here are some tips that will help you navigate the roads throughout the winter season.

Ensure Your Vehicle is Winter Ready

Kick off the season by ensuring everything in your vehicle is functioning as it should be — have your car serviced before winter starts. Ensure your oil and other fluids are topped off and replace your windshield wiper fluid with a low-temperature tolerant fluid to avoid freezing. Consider purchasing winter windshield wipers as well. Change to winter tires if available, but make sure to check that the treads on your tires are not worn and that the tires are properly inflated, as tire pressure tends to drop with the cold.

Extreme cold can also reduce the voltage in your battery, so have it checked out before winter starts. Always keep your gas tank at least half full during the winter months. That way, you'll be able to keep the vehicle on to stay warm in an emergency and always have enough gas heat up your vehicle before you head out.

Pack Emergency Tools and Supplies

You never know when an emergency will happen, but if you are stranded or stuck in the snow, a vehicle emergency kit can be a lifesaver. A small amount of kitty litter can help you gain traction on an icy road. Include a flashlight, small snow shovel and jumper cables, and you'll be ready to dig yourself out or restart your vehicle. You may also want to include warning flares, a candle in a deep can, matches, and a tow rope.

The chances that you will be stranded in your car for an extended period are slight, but also consider stocking your vehicle with extra warm clothing and blankets, particularly if you are heading out on a long trip or on roads that aren't well-travelled . Keep water on hand as well as granola or chocolate bars. Finally, pack a first aid kit and include a seat belt cutter in it.

Keep An Eye Out For Black Ice

Winter conditions mean snow, sleet and ice. Black ice can be hazardous because it is transparent, and you won't know you're on it until you begin to slide or spin out of control. Formed during icy weather conditions or during a thaw and then sudden refreeze, black ice is one of the most hazardous conditions of winter driving.

Maintain control even on black ice by staying in your lane, keeping your vehicle as steady and straight as possible and avoid suddenly applying the brakes, veering or other sudden, sharp turns.

Slow It Down

Try your best to avoid sudden stops. Slowing down far in advance of streetlights can allow you to roll through and help you avoid losing traction when you restart. If you must stop, avoid sudden stops. Instead, apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal and carefully slow down. This helps you maintain control of your vehicle. When you must pause your vehicle, and start again, press slowly on the gas pedal to regain traction and avoid skidding.

On roads and highways, increase your following distance by at least five seconds. It will take you longer to stop in winter weather, even if you have winter tires. Be aware of your terrain, accelerate slowly in advance of hills and let that momentum carry you over the hill. Also avoid stopping on a hill, particularly if it's icy — if you lose traction and the road is slippery, your vehicle may slide down.

Keep Calm

Abrupt reactions can be incredibly dangerous in winter conditions. The best general advice for winter driving is to stay calm and avoid overreacting. Sudden or frequent lane changes increase the risk of losing control of your vehicle and so can overcorrecting when you make an error.

Oversteering occurs when your rear tires lose traction, and the back end of your vehicle begins to swing-out. To avoid it, don't brake suddenly, and learn to steer into skids, slowly accelerating as you gain control. Don't lead hard into the turn or slam on the brakes to evade a front-wheel skid, also known as understeer. Instead, take your foot off the gas and slowly turn the wheel straight until you regain traction and control once again.

Additional Tips

Don't use your cruise control. Pumping the brakes to turn off the cruise control takes valuable time and may even put your car into a skid.

Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area such as a garage. Doing so can expose you to possibly fatal carbon monoxide poisoning.

Plan your route carefully. Avoiding less-travelled roadways makes sense for two reasons. These roads are unlikely to be cleared first in the event of a storm, and there will be fewer travellers available to help if you run into trouble.

Stay alert! Ignore distractions from electronic devices or your fellow passengers at all times, but especially in the winter.

Consider staying home. If you don't have to go somewhere, avoid travelling when winter weather is at its worst.

Winter driving is more hazardous, but you can keep yourself, your passengers and fellow drivers safe with a little planning and a lot of awareness.