The safety basics of winter driving are tried and true
BOISE – (February 8, 2019) – With snow in the forecast for many parts of Idaho, AAA offers tips to keep drivers and their loved ones safe when the weather turns nasty.
“It’s been a fairly mild winter so far, and we tend to forget that even a routine drive can quickly turn challenging, or even dangerous,” said AAA Idaho public affairs director Matthew Conde. “But good preparation can overcome many of the hurdles drivers might face at the roadside.”
AAA has partnered with the Idaho Transportation Department to launch a new safety campaign, #IdahoReady. The year-round campaign presents safety information through video and other formats (including Facebook and Twitter using #IdahoReady), with the goal of getting drivers and their vehicles ready for conditions in Idaho, including winter weather. Drivers should also consult AAA.com/winterprep and 511.idaho.gov for more helpful information. Two safety videos on winter driving have been produced so far. The most recent can be found here.
Winter driving in the Gem State is often accompanied by freezing precipitation, reduced visibility, and slick surfaces. Motorists should exercise special caution on hills, bridges, and curves, and increase their following distance to 8 to 10 seconds under snowy and icy conditions. Windshields and headlights should also be completely clear for better visibility.
This winter, AAA expects to rescue more than 7.2 million motorists, including 14,000 Idahoans, from a variety of driving mishaps, primarily due to lockouts, dead batteries, and flat tires.
Getting Yourself Idaho Ready
- Know before you go. AAA.com/winterprep and 511.idaho.gov are resources that can help a driver plan ahead. Check traffic cameras and weather alerts to pick the safest route, and consider the drivers around you – even if you’re ready for the road, you may be sharing it with others who aren’t as well prepared.
- Get plenty of rest. AAA’s research shows that drivers who only sleep between four and five hours a night perform the same as drivers with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit.
- Keep calm. Winter travel can be stressful or exciting, but strong emotions can also distract motorists from their primary focus – safe driving.
- Change your posture. Adjust your seat position so that you can make smooth, precise movements and easily reach the pedals.
- Select layered clothing that provides warmth, comfort, and freedom of movement. Never attempt to add or remove layers while the vehicle is in motion.
- Insist that everyone wear their seatbelt at all times.
Getting a Vehicle Idaho Ready
- Check hoses and fluid levels. “These fluids are the lifeblood of your vehicle, so make sure that hoses are properly connected and that nothing is leaking,” Conde said. “Your goal is to catch the problem from the safety of your garage, not on a dark and stormy night in the middle of nowhere.”
- Check windshield wipers and washer fluid. Make sure wipers are free from splitting and debris to avoid streaking and skipping. Switch to a washer fluid that has some de-icing properties, and clear the entire windshield, not just a small section.
- Inspect tires and brakes. Tires with less than 4/32” of tread may be suspect, so AAA invites drivers to complete the quarter test. Turn the quarter upside down in the tread – if you can see the top of Washington’s head, it’s time to think about replacement.
- Know your traction options. “Winter tires are designed to stay softer in cold conditions, allowing better grip on the road. They also have deep tread that’s designed for slush and moisture,” Conde said. “All-season tires aren’t as effective, which is why we encourage people with all-season tires to also carry chains.”
- Pack the essentials. Extra clothing, food and water, a basic first-aid kit, jumper cables, a flashlight with fresh batteries, basic tools, and flares or reflective triangles are must-haves for a winter road-trip. Sand, kitty litter, or even your floor mat can be used to help restore traction.
If you lose traction, focus on steering over braking. Continue to steer in the direction you want to go. It may be necessary to downshift to a lower gear to reduce speed and re-establish steering control.
Anti-lock brakes are designed to pulsate when the wheels start to lock, but this is normal. Don’t remove your foot from the brake or pump the brakes, as you’ll interfere with the system’s effectiveness. Drivers that don’t have anti-lock brakes should use the ‘threshold’ method of braking – with your heel firmly against the floor, use the ball of the foot to apply pressure to the brake, easing up when the wheels lock up.
If you find yourself waiting for roadside assistance, remain calm, and stay with your vehicle. Flash your emergency lights, and if appropriate, lift the hood to signal that you need help. If you need to run the engine to keep warm, make sure the tailpipe is completely clear of snow and other debris.
“Above all, good communication is critical,” Conde said. “When drivers share their plans with friends and loved ones, someone will be able to take action when you fail to arrive. And that can make all the difference.”