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Expert: Be prepared and patient when driving on wintry roads

Lori Johnston

Drivers don’t have to venture onto icy or snow-covered roadways unprepared this winter. Taking steps to get your vehicle and yourself ready to drive on treacherous roads could help you avoid having an accident. turned to Mark Jansen for advice about winter driving. As vice president of loss control at Florida-based Contego Services Group, Jansen helps businesses reduce accidents and improve workplace safety. 

Why do drivers need to be cautious on the roadways during the winter?

The chances of an accident go up dramatically in the winter, particularly when there is snow and ice on the road. The opportunity exists at a higher percentage, simply because of the poor driving conditions.

What steps should people and businesses take to protect vehicles before getting on the road?

It’s not a bad idea to take your vehicles into a mechanic and just have them give it a tune-up to make sure it’s in (proper) running condition. Check to see that fluids are at the appropriate level. Check the antifreeze. Also, it’s not a bad idea to look at possibly equipping vehicles with snow tires to increase your traction in inclement weather.

What items should people have in an emergency kit?

It’s important to add some items to an emergency kit in the wintertime. Some ideas are hand warmers and boots, in case you have to leave the vehicle and walk some distance. Also, a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels. Sand or kitty litter would be important to place in the path of wheels to help with traction. You might want to throw in a blanket, perhaps a heavier jacket. You should have emergency lighting or flares, flashlights and a first-aid kit.

What is a main precaution that drivers should take during the winter?

The first bit of advice is to heed any warning you get over the television or radio that asks you not to travel. It’s not unusual for emergency services to ask all non-essential travel to stop (in the event of bad weather). People get in their cars when they shouldn’t and accidents … happen.

If they’re able to get out on the road, how can they avoid accidents?

Obviously, prior to driving, you want to make sure that all the windows (in addition to headlights and taillights) are clear of snow and ice. A nice time to do that is when you turn on the vehicle. Give the engine additional time to warm up.

Also, you should:

Decrease your speed. Be aware of the fact that traction may not be that great.

Allow additional space between the vehicles in front of you to make sure you have additional space to stop your vehicle. One rule of thumb is to allow three times the distance to stop on icy roads.

Keep your headlights on during the day to increase your visibility.

Take additional caution on bridges and overpasses. Frequently, the bridges and overpasses will freeze before the roadways, simply because they get colder sooner.

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