Driving in the winter can be harrowing, especially where blizzard and icy conditions crop up seemingly out of nowhere. But new safety technologies are being added to cars at a record rate. Some can even take control of the vehicle to help us avoid crashes.
One such technology that’s particularly useful in winter is traction control. This function helps your vehicle gain traction on snowy, icy or wet surfaces, particularly when accelerating from a stopped or slowed position, or when trying to make it up a slippery hill. Traction control is now standard on most new vehicles.
My Car Does What? is a campaign of the National Safety Council and the University of Iowa to help educate drivers on dozens of new vehicle safety technologies. But remember, you are your car’s best safety feature. Take precautions to ensure you arrive safely at your destination.
Check the Weather Before You Go
If the weather is frigid, you’re going to want to warm up the car before you drive it. To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, never leave a vehicle running in an enclosed area, such as a garage. In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission warns that a car running in an attached garage is never safe, even with the garage door open.
If the forecast looks iffy, wait out the storm if possible. But if you must travel make sure you share your travel plans and route with someone before you leave.
If you become stranded in an unfamiliar area, do not leave your car. Light flares in front and behind the car and make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow, mud or any object.
Prepare Your Car for Winter
Besides checking the weather, it’s important to have a mechanic check the condition of the following vehicle systems before heading out on the road:
- Hoses and fan belts
- Spark plugs
- Air, fuel and emissions filters, and PCV valve
- Tire wear and air pressure
- Antifreeze level and freeze line
Know What to Do to Avoid a Crash
You’ve done all you can to prepare your car, you’ve checked the weather, but suddenly you find yourself driving in a slippery mess. If visibility is severely limited due to a whiteout, pull off the road and don’t even attempt to drive farther until conditions improve.
But sometimes water or ice on the road can surprise drivers, even with little to no precipitation. Do you know how to prevent a skid? Would you know what to do if you ended up sliding toward another vehicle or fixed object? If you don’t want to end up in a crash like the one in Michigan, AAA offers some winter driving tips.
- Never mix radial tires with other types of tires
- If possible, avoid using your parking brake in cold, rainy and snowy weather
- Do not use cruise control in wintery conditions
- Look and steer in the direction you want to go
- Accelerate and decelerate slowly
- Increase following distance to 8 to 10 seconds
- Know whether you have antilock brakes, which will “pump” the brakes for you in a skid
- If possible, don’t stop when going uphill
- Keep your gas tank at least half-full
- If you do get stranded, don’t try to push your vehicle out of snow
- Signal distress with a brightly colored cloth tied to the antenna or in a rolled up window
Don’t Leave Home Without These
In an emergency situation, in addition to a full tank of gas and fresh antifreeze, National Safety Council recommends having these with you at all times:
- Properly inflated spare tire, wheel wrench and tripod jack
- Jumper cables
- Tow and tire chains
- Bag of salt or cat litter for better tire traction or to melt snow
- Tool kit
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Reflective triangles or flares
- First aid kit
- Windshield cleaner
- Ice scraper and snow brush
- Matches in a waterproof container
- Scissors and string or cord
- Nonperishable, high-energy foods like unsalted, canned nuts, dried fruits and hard candy
- Blankets, mittens, socks and hats
Winter road trips – even short ones – are a great way to celebrate with family and friends. Being prepared can ensure a safe and happy time is had by all.
AAA offers some winter driving tips. Winter Driving Tips
AAA recommends the following winter driving tips:
- Avoid driving while you’re fatigued. Getting the proper amount of rest before taking on winter weather tasks reduces driving risks.
- Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage.
- Make certain your tires are properly inflated.
- Never mix radial tires with other tire types.
- Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze-up.
- If possible, avoid using your parking brake in cold, rainy and snowy weather.
- Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface (wet, ice, sand).
- Always look and steer where you want to go.
- Use your seat belt every time you get into your vehicle.
Tips for long-distance winter trips:
- Watch weather reports prior to a long-distance drive or before driving in isolated areas. Delay trips when especially bad weather is expected. If you must leave, let others know your route, destination and estimated time of arrival.
- Always make sure your vehicle is in peak operating condition by having it inspected by a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility.
- Keep at least half a tank of gasoline in your vehicle at all times.
- Pack a cellular telephone with your local AAA’s telephone number, plus blankets, gloves, hats, food, water and any needed medication in your vehicle.
- If you become snow-bound, stay with your vehicle. It provides temporary shelter and makes it easier for rescuers to locate you. Don’t try to walk in a severe storm. It’s easy to lose sight of your vehicle in blowing snow and become lost.
- Don’t over exert yourself if you try to push or dig your vehicle out of the snow.
- Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna or place a cloth at the top of a rolled up window to signal distress. At night, keep the dome light on if possible. It only uses a small amount of electricity and will make it easier for rescuers to find you.
- Make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t clogged with snow, ice or mud. A blocked exhaust could cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to leak into the passenger compartment with the engine running.
- Use whatever is available to insulate your body from the cold. This could include floor mats, newspapers or paper maps.
- If possible run the engine and heater just long enough to remove the chill and to conserve gasoline.
Tips for driving in the snow:
- Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Don’t try to get moving in a hurry. And take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on icy roads.
- Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping, turning – nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly.
- The normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to ten seconds. This increased margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.
- Know your brakes. Whether you have antilock brakes or not, the best way to stop is threshold breaking. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.
- Don’t stop if you can avoid it. There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it.
- Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed down hill as slowly as possible.
- Don’t stop going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.
- Stay home. If you really don’t have to go out, don’t. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can. Don’t tempt fate: If you don’t have somewhere you have to be, watch the snow from indoors.
An illustrated guide that offers tips to become a safer and more efficient driver in adverse weather conditions. Also provided is information on vehicle systems, driver preparation, winter driving techniques — maximizing traction, maintaining safe following distance and changing speed smoothly — and additional hints and precautions helpful to drivers of front-, rear- and all wheel drive vehicles. AAA-How-to-Go-Ice-Snow
A Guide to Wet-Weather Driving Technique Get-a-Grip
Carbon Monoxide: The Invisible Killer
More than 400 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 20,000 visit the emergency room, and more than 4,000 others are hospitalized.
Where Does Carbon Monoxide Come From?
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that often goes undetected, striking victims caught off guard or in their sleep.
This “silent killer” is produced by burning fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, portable generators or furnaces. When the gas builds up in enclosed spaces, people or animals who breathe it can be poisoned. Ventilation does not guarantee safety.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission says about 170 people in the United States die every year from carbon monoxide produced by non-automotive consumer products, such as room heaters. So as the weather turns colder, it’s important to take extra precautions.
Who is at Risk?
Exposure to carbon monoxide can result in permanent neurological damage or death, and anyone can be at risk.
The CDC says infants, the elderly, and people with chronic heart disease, anemia or breathing problems are more prone to illness or death, but carbon monoxide doesn’t discriminate – especially if certain conditions are present.
In July 2015, for example, four young people and a dog were found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning inside a cabin in Maine. Authorities believe they went to bed without shutting off a gas-powered generator running in the basement.
How Can I Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in My Home?
Winter can be a prime time for carbon monoxide poisoning as people turn on their heating systems and mistakenly warm their cars in garages.
The National Safety Council recommends you install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in your home near the bedrooms. Check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. The CDC offers these additional tips:
- Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year
- Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors
- Never use a generator inside your home, basement or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door or vent; fatal levels of carbon monoxide can be produced in just minutes
- Have your chimney checked and cleaned every year, and make sure your fireplace damper is open before lighting a fire and well after the fire is extinguished
- Make sure your gas appliances are vented properly
- Never use a gas oven for heating your home
- Never let a car idle in the garage
- Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning
Steps to Take When Carbon Monoxide Alarm Sounds
The CPSC says never ignore a carbon monoxide alarm, and do not try to find the source of the gas. Instead, follow these steps:
- Immediately move outside to fresh air
- Call emergency services, fire department or 911
- Do a head count to check that all persons are accounted for
- Do not reenter the premises until emergency responders have given you permission to do so