Fall On the Road

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How to stay safe on wintry roads

Many people will remember the winter of 2013-14 for all the wrong reasons. Record low temperatures and heavy snowfall were the story last winter. With winter now on the horizon once again, many motorists are looking for ways to ensure their daily commutes or holiday trips to visit family and friends are as safe as possible.

When wintry conditions, including snowfall, compromise driving conditions, it's best for motorists to stay home. But avoiding roadways altogether is not always an option, so motorists who simply must venture out onto the roadways this winter can employ the following strategies to ensure they safely arrive at their destinations.

• Consider winter tires. Many drivers are unsure if they need winter tires. All-season tires may suffice for those drivers who live in regions where heavy snowfall is uncommon. But winter tires are designed to perform when the temperatures are especially cold and in driving conditions featuring ice, slush and snow. Drivers who live in regions where snowfall is significant or even expected to be significant may want to install winter tires just to be on the safe side. Some drivers mistakenly believe that vehicle features such as anti-lock braking systems and traction control make their tires more capable of handling wintry roads. But such features do not provide more traction. ABS and traction control only prevent drivers from over-braking or overpowering the traction of their tires. Only better tires will improve traction.

• Drive slowly. Many drivers mistakenly believe they only need to drive slow when snow is falling. But winter weather can make roadways unsafe even in areas that have not witnessed a single snowflake fall from the sky. Wet winter roads can quickly turn into icy winter roads, and no ABS system or traction control device can prevent a car that's traveling too fast from skidding out. Poor visibility is another reason to drive slowly in winter. Peripheral vision is often compromised when driving in winter, as dirt, salt or sand buildup on windshields and side windows and mirrors can make it hard for motorists to fully view their surroundings. Even if your vision is not compromised, a fellow motorist's might be. So ease up on the gas pedal in winter so you have more time to react to potentially adverse conditions.

• Don't drive too closely to other motorists. In addition to driving slowly, motorists also should leave extra room between their vehicles and the vehicles in front of them. In such conditions, for every 10 miles per hour drive a minimum of four car lengths behind the motorist in front of you. So if you are driving 50 miles per hour, be sure to leave 20 car lengths between you and the car ahead of you. This gives you ample time to react and builds in some extra response time should your visibility be compromised.

• Maintain your vehicle. A vehicle should be maintained regardless of the season, but it's especially important that your vehicle perform at its peak in winter. A vehicle's battery and windshield wipers are a winter driver's best friend, but only if they are operating at optimal capacity. Being stranded on a roadside in winter is more dangerous than in any other time of year. That's because driver visibility is more compromised in winter, and it can be hard for motorists to see or avoid vehicles on the side of the road. Maintain proper fluid levels and make sure your battery is charged and the gas tank is full before making any winter trips.

Wintry conditions often make driving especially hazardous. But drivers who adopt certain habits when driving in winter can greatly reduce their risk of accidents.