Even after the holidays have come and gone, there’s still more frosty weather around the corner to bring freezing temperatures, rain, sleet and snow. Winter weather can make for hazardous driving conditions during commutes to work, school and while traveling across the state and beyond during the chilliest months of the year.
WVU Safety and Health Extension Specialist Dan Whiteman recommends following the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s “three P’s” of safe winter driving—prepare for the trip, protect yourself and prevent accidents on the road.
The three P’s can help reduce the risk of being in a wreck, or assist when you’ve become immobilized in a stopped or stalled vehicle.
“Take steps now to maintain your vehicle and keep necessary emergency items on-hand,” Whiteman said. “Doing so can reduce worry and distress if you are involved in an automobile accident, or if your vehicle breaks down while traveling.”
Even before setting out on a trip through town or across the state, you can utilize a computer or mobile device to get a look at traffic reports and detailed road conditions in your area.
The West Virginia Department of Transportation’s 511 Website offers a quick glance at the traffic and road conditions on major roadways throughout the state. If you’re on the go, you can download the free “WV511” application for any iOS or Android phone.
Prepare for winter driving and follow these OSHA guidelines to help ensure that your vehicle transports you safely from point A to point B:
• Check your car’s battery. A normal battery lasts approximately four years before it needs to be replaced; a battery close to the end of its life may fail during cold temperatures.
• Be sure windshield wiper blades work properly and replace them if they cause a streaking effect when wet. Fill the windshield washer fluid reservoir with no-freeze fluid and keep vehicle windows clear.
• Check the vehicle’s antifreeze levels.
• For long trips, or if you’re unsure of your vehicle’s reliability, consider having a professional garage or dealership perform an inspection of the vehicle.
• Use the coin test. Insert a penny into your tire tread—head-side down—and make sure that the tread covers the entire head of President Lincoln. If it doesn’t, have tires checked to see if tread will allow you to travel safely in the rain, sleet and snow.
“Tires have wear bars molded into the rubber. When these wear bars start touching the pavement the tire should be replaced,” added Whiteman.
Whiteman suggests keeping an emergency kit in each vehicle you own. The contents of the kit may vary by season and length of travel. Food and water should be kept for long distance travel, while a flashlight, blankets, jumper cables and a shovel are important when driving all distances.
Special considerations should be made for winter travel, including some items that may seem unconventional on first glance.
“Keeping an abrasive material in your vehicle—such as sand or kitty litter—adds weight to your vehicle which can help with traction in the snow. It can also be spread in snow surrounding tires to help them grip the ground,” remarked Whiteman.
If you become stalled or stranded during winter travel, stay in your car and don’t overexert yourself. Only run your car long enough to stay warm.
“Only run your vehicle for 10 minutes each hour to keep warm and conserve fuel,” said Whiteman.
Before setting out, it’s important that you plan the route you anticipate to reach your destination. Allow for extra travel time if the forecast is calling for wintry weather conditions.
“Familiarize yourself with the trip’s directions; let someone know when you are leaving and an approximate expected arrival time,” added Whiteman.
“Take your time when driving in hazardous conditions to ensure the control of your vehicle, and be sure that visibility through the windshield and windows is good.”
When driving during any season, it’s important that you always wear a seatbelt—protect yourself and children by wearing it properly. If an infant, rear-facing car seat is being used, never place it in front of an air bag. Children under 12 years old should always sit in the backseat where it is safer for them. Air bags can seriously injure or result in death to younger children.
Finally, be responsible when taking the wheel. Alcohol, mixed with driving and unsafe winter road conditions can result in accidents or death. It’s important to designate a sober driver to ensure you make it to your destination safely.
Learn more about how to stay safe this winter season from WVU Extension experts, visit http://ext.wvu.edu/disasters/snowstorms.
CONTACT: Cassie Waugh, WVU Extension Service
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