As beautiful and picturesque as snow can look, it makes for very dangerous driving conditions. In states like Indiana where snowfall is a fact of life, it’s important that drivers are prepared to handle slick driving conditions. What can you do to prepare for winter weather driving if you absolutely can’t avoid going out? The personal injury attorneys at Wilson Kehoe Winingham have some suggestions courtesy of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Get Your Car Ready to Go

Planning and preventative maintenance isn’t something that should only be considered in the winter. Make sure your car is in peak condition all year. Even if it feels fine now, you don’t want it to break down and get stranded while it’s snowing, and you definitely don’t want to get into a car accident. Visit your mechanic for tune-ups and other maintenance and check for leaks and worn hoses. You should always keep an emergency kit inside your car, too.

If your vehicle has been recalled, you can look up whether it has been repaired using the NHTSA Recalls Look-Up Tool. Keep all of your vehicle sensors clean and free from debris. Here are other parts of your car that you should look at before going on your trip, no matter how short it is:

  • The battery. Regardless of whether your vehicle is gas, diesel, electric, or electric-hybrid, cold conditions aren’t good for batteries. Make sure it’s functioning properly before hitting the road.
  • Gasoline. Keep your tank filled even in hybrid-electric vehicles.
  • Lights. Headlights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers, and interior lights are all necessary for safety. If you’re going to be pulling a trailer, make sure that the connections and those lights work.
  • Cooling system. Make sure this gets checked for leaks. The coolant should meet the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations and be tested.
  • Windshield wipers and washer fluid. Use a winter formula and keep some in the vehicle to refill your reservoir if needed. If your blades are worn out, replace them with winter wipers, especially if you live in an area that gets a lot of ice and snow.
  • Floor mats. Remove old floor mats before installing new ones that fit your vehicle, and follow the instructions to make sure they’re in place properly, especially for the driver.
  • Tired. Tires should be inspected all year long, but install snow tires in the fall so that you’re prepared before the snow falls. Keep an eye on the wear on your treads and replace old or worn-out tires with new ones. Each tire should be filled to its recommended pressure when the car is cold. Make sure that you know the condition of the spare tire, too.

Be Familiar with Your Car

Every car handles a little bit differently under normal circumstances, let alone when road and weather conditions are bad. It might make you feel like you’re practicing for your learner’s permit, but drive on side streets and in empty parking lots when your area first gets snowy before you get on main roads.

If you’ve never looked at your vehicle’s manual, now would be a good time to crack it open to make sure you’re familiar with features like antilock brakes and electronic stability control. If you have to rent a car, make sure you know how it handles before you go; look at the owner’s manual, practice with it, and learn where the hazard light switch is.

Be Prepared for Emergencies

Make sure that your car has what you need to stay warm and safe in the event that you do get stuck on the road. Use this checklist for ideas of what to keep in your car in case you have a winter driving emergency:

  • For getting snow off of your vehicle: a broom, an ice scraper
  • For getting out of snowbanks or through heavy snow: a snow shovel, something abrasive like sand and cat litter for traction
  • Jumper cables
  • Signaling or warning devices, like flares and emergency markers
  • A flashlight
  • A cell phone with a charger
  • Food and water
  • Any medications you might need, especially if you have a long trip ahead of you or plan on driving through sparsely-populated areas

If You Get Stuck in Snowy or Icy Weather

If the worst happens and you do get stuck, focus on staying safe and don’t push yourself too hard. Stay with your car, keep the interior dome light on, and put bright markers on the antenna or windows to maximize your chances of being seen. If you have to run your car to keep warm, clear the exhaust pipe of any snow and only run it just long enough to stay warm, and only once in a while: don’t keep it on for long periods of time in an enclosed space or with the windows up.

Stay Safe on the Road

Avoiding car accidents is about being a defensive driver, no matter what time of year it is. When the snow falls, though, do everything you can to make sure you get to your destination safely. Plan your route ahead of time so that you can check the weather, road conditions, and traffic up to the day you plan on leaving. Even if you plan on using a GPS system, make sure you know the route and let others know where you’ll be headed. You and your passengers should all wear seat belts or age-appropriate restraints.

Responsible driving is important during this season especially. Don’t drive with distractions like texting or phone calls, and absolutely drive sober. Obey the posted speed limits within reason, but drive slower if you have to.

If you find yourself near a snow plow, the best place to be is behind them. Crowding them or traveling beside them is dangerous because of the way they move and the fact that they can throw snow into the air, limiting what you can see. At the same time, keep your distance: if you can’t see a snow plow’s mirrors, the other driver can’t see you. In addition, you should allow ample space to brake, and deicing materials could hit your car.

Have You Been in an Accident This Winter?

If you’ve had a winter driving accident that you couldn’t do anything to avoid, the Indianapolis car accident attorneys at WKW might be able to help. It’s possible to recover damages to cover the expenses you face if you or someone you love has been injured. If you suspect that a lawsuit might be in your future and are interested in a free consultation, call our office at 317.920.6400 or fill out our contact form.

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