Homeowners insurance blog

Smart Tips for Driving in Winter Weather

It’s only a week into the New Year, and we’re already facing the first big winter storm of 2015. Winter storm Gorgon formed over the Northwest on Sunday night, and in the coming days it’s expected to pummel the Midwest and Northeast. According to Weather.com, the fast-moving system has already prompted winter storm watches, warning, and advisories for parts of 15 states from Washington all the way to Ohio.

If you are in Gorgon’s line of fire (or ice for that matter), you’ll want to avoid driving as much as possible, at least in the early days of the storm’s fury. But with work, school and other commitments, that’s not always an option. If you must be out and about during wintery weather, it’s important to take proper safety precautions.

Here are some tips that can help even the most experienced winter weather drivers.

Be prepared …

  • Have an emergency kit: If you don’t already have one, it’s smart to have a survival kit stashed somewhere in your vehicle. You can build your own or buy a premade kit. Either way, you should make sure your kit has blankets, roadside visibility aids such as triangle reflectors, a first-aid kit, a flashlight with extra batteries, a cell phone charger, jumper cables, and an ice scraper.
  • Clear snow and ice off your car: This step seems like a no-brainer but make sure you don’t miss any spots. You’ll want to pay attention to windows, mirrors, lights, reflectors, the hood, roof and trunk. It may seem like overkill, but it could be the difference between you and a snowy ditch.
  • Check the traffic report: Before heading out on the roads, it’s a good idea to turn on the local news and check up on road conditions. You can see which roads are clear and see where any trouble spots might be. In the end, you could find conditions are so bad that you decide not to chance it after all.

Bonus tip
Keep at least half a tank of gas in your car during winter season. Why? Because this helps ensure that you have a source of heat in the event you become stranded in the cold and helps prevent a fuel line freeze-up.

While you’re on the road …

  • Keep your headlights on: Even if it’s daytime, keep your headlights on while driving. This helps improve your own visibility as well as the ability for other cars to see you. The last thing you want is a head-on collision.
  • Be cautious on bridges and overpasses: These areas are often the first to become icy when winter weather hits. Slow down when passing over these areas and keep a safe distance from cars around you in case somebody skids.
  • Reduce your speed: However, don’t just be cautious on bridges and overpasses. It’s best to slow down overall. Remember, posted speed limits are for when road conditions are at their best – not during winter storms.

Bonus tip
Avoid using cruise control when driving through wintery weather. It might be tempting to use it, especially if you are traveling a long distance, but it’s safer not to. In adverse weather, you want as much control of your vehicle as possible.

If you get stuck …

  • Stay in your car: In the event you become stranded, like many Southern drivers did last winter, its best call for help and stay in your car. Your car is your best shelter from the elements and can help you stay warm. It’s rarely a good idea to venture out into a storm on foot.
  • Be visible: While waiting with your car, try to make yourself visible as possible. Set out triangle reflectors, turn on your hazard lights, and keep the dome light burning inside of your car. All these things will help you be better seen by rescuers.
  • Run the engine intermittently: Because it will be cold you’ll be tempted to keep the car running, but use the heater sparingly. Only run your engine for 10 minutes every hour or so. This will be enough to keep you warm and save your fuel.

Bonus tip
Sand, or even cat litter, can provide your tires with the traction they need to get out of the snow. Keep a small bag of it in your car just in case you wind up getting stuck.

The best way to avoid getting stranded in winter weather is to avoid going out in it altogether. If you can, make arrangements to stay home from work or school. It’s always better to be safe than stranded.