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In Touch With 21st - December 2013

Winter Weather Driving Tips

How to drive in winter weather

Whether you’re facing snow in the midwest, rain on the west coast or icy conditions back east, chances are we will all be facing some sort of weather situation when driving during the winter months. Here are some driving tips to help you arrive at your destination safely, whether you’re a new driver or an experienced one.


Driving in rain can be more challenging than many realize. Decreased visibility, increased stopping distances combined with fog or fogged windows, can make even a short trip a risky one. Starting with leaving additional space between the car in front of you and reducing your speed, there are some additional steps to take to reduce the risk when driving in the rain. While maintaining the proper following distance (3-4 seconds) is a great place to start, this distance needs to be increased in wet weather, (8-10 seconds). This added distance will give you much more time to react to any situation. It takes longer to stop or make driving adjustments in wet weather, so try to be alert for brake lights ahead of you. Turn your headlights on in rainy, foggy or overcast conditions. They’ll help you see the road, and help other drivers see you. Finally, never drive through moving water if you can’t see the pavement beneath.

Ultimately, the biggest threat drivers face when driving in rain is hydroplaning, where all 4 wheels lose contact with the pavement simultaneously. If your vehicle begins to hydroplane, reduce your speed by easing off the accelerator slowly and steer straight until you regain control. If necessary, ease off completely. A good way to reduce the chance of hydroplaning is to drive in the tracks of the vehicle in front of you, but not too closely, and stay toward the middle lanes, as water tends to pool in outside lanes.

Did you know:If your car's front windshield becomes fogged up, turning on your air conditioner with the defroster will quickly remove condensation and frost from the interior of windows. Use the fresh air option on your air-conditioner and raise the temperature. Many cars automatically do this when you choose the defrost setting.


One of the toughest situations you face when driving in snowy conditions is stopping and starting on hills. The first thing to remember is to avoid applying the brakes on a hill if you can avoid it, whether going uphill or downhill. Remember that the slower the wheels are moving (and that the engine is revolving), the more torque is applied. When approaching an incline, speed up slightly before reaching the hill to give you the momentum to get up the hill. Never slow down before attempting an incline or while you are on the hill. Declines are perhaps more difficult to deal with. When approaching a decline, slow down before you reach the hill, then coast down the hill as safely as you can. On long steep declines, coast as long as you can, but avoid letting your vehicle gather too much speed, as it will be very hard to stop and you can quickly lose control. Apply the brake to keep your speed to a manageable level. Where it is legal, engine braking (shifting to a lower gear) can be very helpful in dealing with declines in winter weather.

Did you know: Bridges usually will freeze first due to the exposure to cold air below the road surface, making the surface condition worse on a bridge than on the approaching road. Exit ramps are also a greater challenge during winter conditions, as they may receive less anti-icing material than the main road. These areas often are the first to freeze and likely to stay frozen during a winter storm.


This is the most treacherous driving of all, especially at night, as ice can be hard to spot on roadways. The biggest danger to drivers in icy conditions isn’t always apparent: “black ice.” Black ice is a very thin layer of frozen water containing few bubbles of air, making the layer of ice transparent and causes the surface of the roadway to look slightly wet, rather than icy. Black ice is most commonly found on roads located near bodies of water such as lakes, rivers or on overpasses. Moisture in the air freezes when it comes in contact with a cold roadway. Additionally, a sudden drop in temperature can cause an already wet roadway to quickly freeze. Be aware of weather conditions and areas that are prone to flooding or moisture and pavement that looks dark, wet or like new asphalt.

To deal with icy driving conditions, make smooth, careful movements behind the wheel. Abrupt turns or acceleration/deceleration can break traction and can start a skid. Accelerate and decelerate slowly. So, for example, when approaching an intersection, allow for long, slow braking to avoid skids. You can also help reduce the likelihood of skidding by anticipating lane changes, turns and curves. However, if your vehicle starts to skid, steer into the direction of the slide.

It takes longer to slow down on icy roads. When approaching a light or intersection, begin slowing well in advance, apply the brakes gently, and slowly add pressure. If your car is equipped with anti-lock brakes and you need to stop the car quickly, apply firm constant pressure to the brake pedal. The ABS system will maintain traction, and you will be able to steer the car during braking. If your car doesn't have anti-lock brakes and the wheels do lock, release the brake and re-apply gently. Usually, repeatedly tapping the brakes has good results. Do not try to steer a car not equipped with ABS if your wheels are locked or close to locking. If there is an obstacle in your path and a collision is imminent, it is best to release the brakes and steer around the obstacle.

Slow down and arrive safely

Plan enough time for your drive and observe speed limits. Remember, speed limits are based on ideal driving conditions, with little traffic and good visibility. Ease up on the accelerator and allow more time to get to your destination. Stay alert and focused on what’s going on around you. Turn on your headlights: it’s the law in all states when visibility is reduced, and many states also require having your headlights on when windshield wipers are in use. The best advice however may be this: stay home. If you can wait until conditions improve and avoid driving in bad weather it’s best to do so.

Please note: This information is of a general nature for educational purposes only. It must not be taken as advice and does not signify an endorsement. 21st Century Insurance is not responsible for any injuries or loss incurred.

Sources: www.smartmotorist.com; www.edmunds.com; msn.autos.com

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