Top 12 Cold Weather Driving Tips
With an abundance of mountain terrain, Colorado has some of biggest weather extremes in the country. As the calendar moves through the fall and into winter, every Coloradan should know how to drive safely in cold, wet and snowy weather. Since even experienced drivers can be overwhelmed by low visibility and slippery roads, what do the experts recommend to stay safe in bad weather?
1. Drive slowly
If roads are wet or covered with snow, every action by your car will take longer. You'll need more distance and time to stop, accelerate or turn than you would on dry asphalt. Increase the time you need to maneuver through the slippery conditions by driving more slowly.
2. Change speed slowly
Quick changes in speed can cause your car to skid or slide. In fact, accelerating slowly (pushing down on the gas pedal gradually) is the best way to get traction back if your car starts to slide and avoid skidding.
Also remember that quick stops can cause slides too – on a snowy or icy road it will take longer to stop at any red light or stop sign. Start your deceleration earlier and ease into any required stop.
3. Keep your distance
The normal following distance behind other drivers on dry roads is three to four seconds. In bad weather, you'll want to increase that to eight to ten seconds to give yourself a safer margin of error – yours or the other driver's. You'll need the larger gap to stop if something happens.
4. Brake correctly
Whether or not you have antilock brakes use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal while you keep your heel on the floor of the car. Don't pump the brakes.
5. Avoid full stops
If you don't absolutely need to stop, try to navigate through traffic lights on a slow roll. When roads are slippery, getting a stationery vehicle moving is harder than maintaining its momentum.
If you can slow down enough to keep moving until the light changes, do it.
6. Navigate hills the right way
Don’t accelerate quickly when driving up a snowy hill and try not to come to a complete stop. Extra gas on a hill gets your wheels spinning whereas a steady speed allows you to make progress.
Complete stops on a snowy or icy hill can leave you stuck – try to build up some speed where the road is flat to give yourself some momentum when approaching a slippery hill.
7. Turn into a slide
If the back of your car starts to slide during a turn, let up on the gas and turn your steering wheel in the direction of the slide. This should help straighten out the car.
The same strategy can work if the car wants to slide straight ahead when you're trying to turn. Lift your foot gently off the accelerator or brake and straighten your wheel until the tires regain their grip on the road.
8. Clear off your car
Sweep your car's hood, roof, and windows to remove snow before you drive. This will keep other drivers from being pelted with airborne snow and ice as you accelerate down the road.
Although Colorado state law doesn't impose fines for not removing snow and ice from your vehicle, some town and municipalities in the state do issue tickets for those violations.
9. Know the limits of all-wheel and four-wheel drive
All-wheel and four-wheel drive isn't an all-purpose protector from weather and road conditions. You can still slide on slippery surfaces and the extra traction they provide only apply to acceleration. All-wheel and four-wheel system don't give you an advantage when you brake.
10. Leave the plows alone
The safest course is to let the plows do their job. Don’t pass them or follow them too closely. Passing them means you're then driving on unplowed roads and tailgating them puts you at risk of getting pelted with pebbles and other road debris.
11. Use the right windshield fluid
You not only need to keep snow and ice from piling up on your windshield, but the salt and sand spread on the roads are another visibility reducer that inevitably ends up covering your glass.
You should buy windshield cleaner designed especially for winter (often called "winter-grade"). It stays in liquid form even if the temperature drops way below freezing. An extra bottle in the trunk can be a good idea just in case you run out.
12. Keep a Safety Kit in Your car
Breaking down or getting stuck in cold weather can get dangerous quickly in bad weather, particularly if a tow truck or other help can't reach you quickly. A well-stocked winter safety kit should include the following items:
- Your cellphone
- Car charger
- Jumper cables or battery booster
- Flares or hazard triangles
- Blanket and extra clothing layers
- First-aid kit
- Water and food with long expiration dates (e.g. protein bars).
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