Winter’s extreme cold can have debilitating effects on both you and your vehicle and now that it is in full swing here in Colorado, it’s good idea to review those realities. Nearly a fourth of weather-caused crashes occur on snowy, slushy or icy pavement.
Such collisions result in over 1,300 deaths and 116,800 injuries every year, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
With AccuWeather's forecasting above-normal snowfall in many parts of the country, including Colorado, AAA recommends brushing up on winter driving techniques.
First, it is important to knowing when to brake or steer in slippery conditions. Steering or braking in a given situation can have very different outcomes on icy streets, depending primarily on the maintenance of traction in such conditions.
Whenever driving over 25 MPH, you have a better chance at avoiding a collision when steering rather than braking. In slick conditions, sudden braking can lead to loss of traction and thus control, spawning lovely but dangerous automotive doughnuts – the name given uncontrolled spinning on a slick surface.
On modern multilane freeways, steering is not always an option but braking on slick surfaces requires a driver to have awareness down the road and an increased following distance. You’ll need more room to stop on a slippery surface. Give yourself lots of room and try to focus 20-30 seconds in front of your vehicle so you have time and space to stop safely if needed.
Shady spots, bridges, overpasses and intersections are frequently icy so caution is always warranted.
Staying in control through a skid - if your car loses its grip on the road, remain calm and continue to look and steer in the intended direction. If you must, touch the brakes lightly, to avoid further upsetting the vehicle's balance making it harder to control.
Avoid using Cruise Control or tailgating. Normal following distances should be increased to eight to 10 seconds when driving in inclement weather. This will allow the extra braking distance needed should an emergency stop be needed.
On multilane highways, stay in the clearest lane, try not to change lanes or drive over packed snow. Cruise control is ill advised when driving on any slippery surface. Avoiding its use will allow quicker response when you release the accelerator.
Drive distraction free as the potential a slick surface has to magnify the simplest mistake makes it imperative to drive calm, alert and focused. Given a passenger, enlist their help to carry out other activities, keeping you focused on the road.
Prepare Your Vehicle for Ice and Snow
You know the drill – antifreeze, wipers, washer fluid, belts, lights, tires, heater, defroster, spare tire and so on. It’s good to have hazard triangles, flashers or flares. Standard maintenance should be up to date as a well running vehicle is at its best when it comes to winter conditions.
Avoid Hypothermia and Frostbite
For people, crashes in frigid conditions can leave you exposed to both frostbite and hypothermia, according to DMV.us.org, who recommends simply not driving in severe conditions. People across the northern half of the US and Canada will simply chuckle at the suggestion – it would bring commerce to a screeching halt no one can afford.
Nevertheless, this is not to say frostbite and hypothermia are not conditions to be avoided. For those unaware, frostbite is the result of exposed skin freezing in the cold. This can occur quite rapidly – in just one minute at a wind chill of -25 Fahrenheit – affecting extremities first.
A body part that has suffered frostbite before is more susceptible to it again, even in mild conditions. Red, burning skin means frostbite will occur unless the part is warmed fast. If your fingers or toes go numb frostbite has already set in. To treat it, hold the frosty part tight to warm skin on another part of the body. Once thawed, keep it covered and away from the cold.
Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce, an effect of prolonged exposure to the cold. Symptoms include shivering, slow and slurred speech, memory lapses, incoherence, stumbling, drowsiness and exhaustion. To help wrap an affected person in blankets or a sleeping bag and administer warm liquids if available. Removing any damp clothing and get warm quickly to stay alert.
In this day and age of OnStar and Lexus Enform, such dangers seem remote, but in a whiteout blizzard it is possible to end up off the road and off the grid. In such a situation, you should stay warm, conserve your resources and try to create a signal someone will see. Common sense goes a long way.
Here are some cold weather tips if stranded
Use a space blanket to conserve heat to the inhabited portion of the vehicle. To this end keep a space blanket and duct tape in the car. Keep a 50-ft. rope in the car. If you must leave your vehicle for any reason, tie yourself to it. Direction in a whiteout is very difficult to keep straight.
Run your car for heat 10 minutes per hour to conserve fuel supplies. When its gone, the car will get freezing cold in a few hours if not sooner. Remember in extreme situations you can use your spare tire and a little oil to light a signal, visible for a long distance. Be sure it’s downwind.
This is especially useful if you slide off the road to a place difficult to see. It’s not good for the environment, but if you live, you’ll find some way to make up for it. Carry granola bars or other nutritious foods and water to help pass a long wait.
Examiner.com wishes you a safe, prosperous, warm and Happy New Year.