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Safety tips for holiday travelers driving in ice and snow conditions

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With Christmas only a few days away, travelers are making last minute preparations for family holiday trips. Here are some important safety tips on how to handle the challenges of driving in snow and icy conditions.
Trip planning:
• The best made travel plans should always leave room for moderation. If the current winter storms are pummeling your travel route consider taking another highway or stay home an extra day.
• If you must leave, try and wait until the snow plows have cleared the roadways. It is always wise to allow more time to travel to your destination.
• Before embarking on your journey, make sure your vehicle is ready for the trip. Check tires, chains, anti-freeze and brakes.

When driving on ice and snow:
• If time allows, try and practice driving your vehicle during snowy weather in a vacant parking lot. It’s good to have a feel for how your automobile will handle. This will also reduce your stress level when you actually begin your journey with a carload of excited family members.
• Reduce your driving speed and allow more distance between your vehicle and the car in front of you. It is recommended that there should be more than three times the average distance between the vehicles.
• Avoid slamming the brakes instead apply brakes gently to avoid skidding. If a skid occurs begin to ease off the brake pedal.
• During inclement weather always use the vehicle lights.
• Use low gears for improved traction, especially when traveling on hills.
• Remember bridges and highway overpasses freeze before main roadways. Be sure to slow down when on highway exit ramps. Wet roadways may also freeze in shady areas, so be cautious.
• Avoid passing snow plows and sanding trucks. The roadway behind the vehicle is usually better than the roadway in front of the equipment. Be patient.
• Avoid using cruise control during blizzard conditions. Cruise control does not adjust to poor weather conditions and can create dangerous driving conditions.
What to do when your wheels skid:
• If your front wheels skid – take your foot off the accelerator and shift to neutral. The wheels will skid sideways and the vehicle will slow down. Avoid steering until vehicle traction is regained, then steer in the direction you want to travel. When this happens you can shift back into “drive” and gently apply the gas pedal.
• If your rear wheels skid – stop pressing your foot on the accelerator.
• Steer your front wheels toward the direction you want to go. For example if vehicle is skidding to the right, steer to the right. Try not to over compensate. If your rear wheels slide the opposite way then adjust your front wheels gently until you have full control again. Don’t panic, avoid sudden jerky moves and gently adjust your vehicle and speed.
• Standard brakes should be pumped and ABS brakes should have steady pressure applied.
What to do if your car gets stuck:
• Stop spinning your wheels because it will just get you stuck deeper.
• Turn your wheels from side to side to move the snow out of the way.
• Apply a small amount of pressure to the gas pedal and see if you can ease your vehicle out.
• Clear the snow away from the tires and under the car with a shovel.
• Pour sand, cat litter, salt or gravel around the tires and along the pathway you choose to travel.
• Once you have removed any possible obstructions and improved the traction in the area, try and rock the vehicle to get it moving again. Be sure to consult owner’s manual before you start rocking the car because transmission damage can happen to some vehicles. Shift the vehicle forward and backwards as you gently apply gas.
Be sure to check road conditions to your destination prior to leaving on your journey. For the most up-to-date weather reports check online at

Sources: National Safety Council, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, Washington State Government Information & Services.

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