Stay safe during the snowy months
- Winter weather can damage vehicles of all sorts.
- Winter-proofing your vehicle ahead of time is key.
- Share these tips with your clients before the next winter storm is forecast.
Persons facing winter driving conditions require caution and planning for dangerous contingencies.
People—and all other animals, really—know that winter weather can be unpredictable. It can come in squalls or sighs, torrents or trickles. Predicting the weather is only becoming more difficult as shifting climatic conditions cause the disappearance of snow in some places, and its new and unexpected appearance in others.
And when true winter weather hits, it can hit hard. According to the United States Department of Transportation (DoT), the winter of 2021-2022 saw 395 fatal crashes and 22,325 injury-causing crashes in the presence of snow or sleet. Driving in winter conditions is tricky enough that Bridgestone Winter Driving School exists. In fact, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) recommends practicing driving in wintery conditions in abandoned parking lots—almost as if you’re learning to drive all over again.
So what tips can you give those of your clients preparing to drive in winter conditions? We’ll discuss that below.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say. To that end, Kelley Blue Book’s blogger encourages drivers to keep their cars well maintained, and to perform the following functions well before the first blizzard of the season:
- Install winter tires
- Replace windshield wiper blades
- Fill up windshield wiper fluid and keep an extra gallon in the vehicle
- Check tire pressure and tire tread to avoid blowouts
- Keep the gas tank at least half-full at all times to avoid freezing fuel lines
- Keep your vehicle washed to avoid salt corrosion
Winterizing your vehicle also involves having a professional mechanic check the following:
- Antifreeze levels
- Battery life
- Exhaust and ignition systems
- Oil level
- Windshield wipers and washer fluid
You’ll also want to plan routes carefully, especially when it comes to longer trips. Bearing safety in mind, it may not pay to, say, take a hilly scenic route shortly after a hard freeze. Driving under winter weather conditions is just plain harder than it is during the warmer months.
Understand winter weather conditions
Whether you’re a Buffalo, New York native or a Tahitian holidaying in upper Quebec, you may think of winter weather solely in terms of relative snowfall. But that’s just one weather phenomenon you need to understand and prepare for if you plan to drive anywhere during the winter months.
There are different types of dangerous winter weather, each of which presents unique dangers to both your vehicle and your person. These include:
- Cold temperatures, which can affect how your car runs on a mechanical level. Freezing temperatures can occur even in climatic zones that don’t experience snowfall.
- Wind chill, which inheres on how cold it feels, and how that affects the body. You need to pay at least as much attention to wind chill as you do to what the thermometer says.
- Snow, especially blizzards, can have a hurricane-like effect on vegetation, power lines, and anything a heavy wind can pick up and deposit elsewhere. Snow itself can accumulate in large heaps, making roads impassable. Heavy snow can strand motorists in their cars, leaving them vulnerable to cold weather-related conditions such as frostbite and hypothermia.
- Freezing rain can be as damaging as snow. Worse, even: it turns into ice on pavement faster than snow. In fact, Weather.gov warns that freezing rain is more dangerous than the “typical snowstorm” due to the way it ices over pavement, and how likely it is to increase the prevalence of fallen branches and power lines on the road.
That’s just for starters. As we’ve mentioned, winter weather conditions can be unpredictable, especially in regions prone to so-called “lake effect” weather modulation or zones experiencing dramatic changes in climate patterns.
Winter weather doesn’t affect all routes equally. NY.gov’s Winter Safety Tips page reminds drivers that bridges freeze earlier than road surfaces; one ought to slow down when driving over even short bridges.
The organization also stresses that you shouldn’t go out in a winter storm unless absolutely necessary. Should your vehicle get stuck, they recommend remaining inside it, moving around to the extent that you can to keep blood flowing, and hanging a brightly lit piece of cloth or plastic out your window to signal for help.
Pack a survival kit
Without being a doomsayer, you’ll want to stress to clients that driving in winter conditions puts them at a higher than normal risk of automotive damage and personal injury. No matter how advanced the technology gets, cars are still made out of materials that wear down over time; these materials are particularly vulnerable to destruction in extremely cold conditions.
And protecting oneself from winter conditions, when one plans to go out driving in them, involves a bit more than putting on a thick coat and waterproof boots. You’ll need to put together a winter driving condition emergency survival kit. This should include:
- A snow shovel
- An ice scraper
- Traction material in case your car gets stuck in snow—sand or kitty litter are popular options
- Emergency flares
- Non-perishable food items
- A flashlight
- Drinkable water
- Jumper cables
- A phone charger
That’s not all. Popular Mechanics stresses that you should never forget to pack extra pieces of warm clothing. That makes sense: if things get really bad out there, you may be able to do little more than hunker down and try to keep hypothermia at bay while awaiting rescue. It’s not a pretty thought, but it’s a contingency all drivers should prepare for.
Discuss winter driving conditions with your clients early. The more time they have to prepare, the likelier the chance that everything will work out for the best.