Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Winter Weather Driving Tips

The wind is howling & snow is whipping past my window. Our offices have been closed for the past 3 days due to the historic DC snowstorm. Just when the roads get clear, Mother Nature dumps another foot of snow on top of us.

The roads will be icy for several days to come. I received the following information about Winter Driving from John Malerich, Loss Control Rep. at Allied Insurance Company. Good information to keep in mind during these winter months. Thanks, John.

In a CTRE study, crash rates were calculated for sections of Iowa’s Interstate highways when snowfall exceeded 0.2 inches per hour. The rates were compared to crash rates for the same highway sections (same month, weekday, and time) when the weather was clear. When road surfaces were icy or snowy, or weather conditions were snow or sleet, crash rates were 13 times higher than during clear weather. – Iowa State University, Center for Transportation Research and Education.

An easy way to look at surviving winter weather is to break it down to key steps:

1. Prepare your vehicle for the expected weather conditions
2. Plan your trips
3. Modify your driving as needed based on conditions
4. Be ready for emergencies (including the potential to become stranded)

Prepare Your Vehicle
Prepare your vehicle for winter. While winter conditions can vary greatly throughout the USA and Canada, a seasonal check-up of key maintenance items is important:

· Check windshield washer levels, and wiper blade condition – you’ll need both working properly to clear your windshield of rain, slush and accumulating grim or salts thrown up from the road
· Tire pressure must be monitored – for every 10-degree drop in air temperature; your tires will lose 1-psi of pressure.
· Tire tread depths are also vital – thin treads compromise stopping ability and handling, especially in slush, snow, and rain.
· Your batteries should be in good condition and able to hold a charge – they not only help to start your engine, but you may need that battery power if stranded at night to power emergency lights.
· Your engine’s fluid levels should be confirmed and topped off as needed.
· Any erratic behavior by the engine or transmission should be investigated by a qualified mechanic as soon as possible.

In addition to a full maintenance check-up, be sure to follow your company’s procedures for pre-trip inspections – document any problems and get assistance to be sure that your vehicle is ready for the weather conditions you expect to encounter during your trip (even if it is sunny and warm at your location, you may find dramatically different conditions at higher elevations, or at your destination).

Plan Your Trips
Take time to become familiar with your planned route and several alternatives in case one route becomes impassible due to traffic conditions, crashes or severe weather. You can determine traffic, road and weather conditions prior to leaving by using the internet, checking TV or Radio stations, or by calling designated traffic hotlines in your area.

Many states support “511” phone lines that provide updated traffic and road conditions for their state. Other hotlines may apply for your destination state and these are published on most state’s web sites or in phone books.

If you anticipate extreme weather (blizzards, etc.), make sure your teammates know your planned route and check in times (so that they can send help if you miss designated check-ins, etc.)

Modify Your Driving as Conditions Change
When road conditions are slippery, look farther down the road than normal so that you can anticipate emergencies and avoid the need for sudden maneuvers. Most skids are caused by last-second stops and turns on slippery pavements.

Be extra cautious with hills. Slow down as you come to the top of a hill – you may be surprised at the last minute to find a stalled vehicle or other obstacle that was not obvious as you climbed the hill (especially if the obstacle is located just over the crest of the hill in a “blind spot”).

Moving more slowly also helps you to deal with the downgrade side of the hill where loss of traction and gravity are working against you.

When possible, avoid driving through an area where other vehicles have had trouble with the road conditions. The same conditions that caused their trouble may still exist and could create trouble for you, too.

Leave extra space between your vehicle and others. This anticipates sliding and some loss of control is possible. Additionally, snow or ice may fly off of vehicles ahead of you causing poor visibility.

After all precautions are taken and good practices are followed there still will be occasions when conditions become too hazardous to proceed. There may be times when it would be safer to pull off the road at the first safe place, notify your company of the delay and wait until conditions improve before continuing.

Be Ready for Emergencies (In Case You Become Stranded)
Generally, it is best to stay with your vehicle unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to possible help, and are certain you will improve your situation. If you do leave the vehicle, leave a plainly visible note indicating when you left, what direction you were headed (intended destination) and a contact number to call to verify you’ve arrived safely.

To signal for assistance you could light two flares and place one at each end of the vehicle a safe distance away. You could also hang a brightly colored cloth from your antenna.

If you are sure the vehicle's exhaust pipe is not blocked, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so depending upon the amount of fuel available (you may need to follow other guidelines based on the type of vehicle and engine configuration).

Protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia by bundling up and eating food that you’ve packed for emergencies. Keep at least one window open slightly. Heavy snow and ice can seal a car shut.

You should be prepared in case of an emergency situation on the road. A few items that could be helpful:

A properly inflated spare tire, wheel wrench and tripod-type jack - A shovel - Jumper cables - A bag of salt (to melt ice) or cat litter (to provide traction in snow) -Tool kit and fresh First Aid supplies - Working flashlight and extra batteries - reflective triangles and brightly-colored cloth - Exterior windshield cleaner - Ice scraper and snow brush - Wooden stick matches in a waterproof container - Non-perishable, high-energy foods like unsalted canned nuts, dried fruits, and hard candy - Heavy woolen mittens, socks, cap, blankets.

Good luck out there.

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