Winter driving in the Pacific Northwest can be challenging and unpredictable. Shorter, darker days, and wet slippery conditions can make for nightmarish road conditions for even the most experienced driver. More than 116,000 Americans are injured and over 1,300 are killed on snowy, slushy, or icy pavement every winter while driving. Driving safety begins for all drivers before you even get on the road. Regular vehicle maintenance, pre-trip inspections, and a little travel planning can go a long way to help your employees get to their destinations safely.
Get your car serviced. No one wants their car to break down in any season, but especially not in the cold or during snowy winter weather. Start the season off right by ensuring your vehicle is in optimal condition before the winter season strikes. Pay special attention to your vehicle's battery, wipers, coolant, tires, brakes, and other systems that can take a beating when the temperature drops.
Check vehicles parked outdoors for rodent and small animal activity. Animal prints or droppings can be seen in the engine compartment where rodents hide to stay warm, often chewing on components that can cause engine failure. Use non-poison repellents to keep creatures away.
Turn on your lights! Many newer vehicles have automatic headlights that turn on when external light reaches a certain level, not on visibility perceived by the driver. When headlights are set to the “Auto” setting, not only will lights automatically turn on, they will also automatically shut off depending on external light. Many “Auto” settings are also turning on headlights but not taillights which mean that drivers who leave their headlights in the “Auto” setting all the time drive at night with no taillights. Studies done around the world have concluded that turning headlights to the “On” position which includes turning on the taillights, have decreased collisions from 5-10%. Bypass the “Auto” setting and go ahead and turn those lights “On”.
Check tire type and condition. All-season tires are great for mild conditions but drivers in areas with colder, wet conditions and snow will benefit from a winter tire. Anything above 4/32 of an inch is considered good for tread depth but uneven wear, air pressure, and tire age should also be considered when evaluating tires. Check State date limitations for studded tires. In Washington State, studded tires are only legal November 1st -March 31st.
Prepare Your Vehicle
Practice the habit of always keeping the tank half full or more during winter and never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area such as a garage. Stock your vehicle to handle common winter driving-related tasks, such as cleaning off your windshield, as well as any supplies you might need in an emergency. Keep the following in your vehicle:
Winter driving demands special care; safe driving is a year-round habit. Ensure everyone in your vehicles is wearing seat belts and children should be in age/size appropriate child seats no matter the weather. Avoid distractions and follow these additional tips while driving in adverse conditions:
If you find yourself unexpectedly broken down or stuck in the snow, stay out of harm's way by staying in your vehicle and waiting for help. Turn on your hazard lights to increase the visibility of your vehicle and run the heater to stay warm for a max of 10 minutes of every hour to conserve fuel. If you are running your vehicle, ensure that the exhaust pipe is clear of snow or mud as it can create a dangerous carbon monoxide situation if it is blocked.
Remember that your best bet is to avoid traveling in adverse conditions. Now is a great time to remind your employees of weather-related policies and if applicable, working from home policies. If your employees travel as part of their job duties, determine if work can be rescheduled or shifted to limit the time employees need to spend on the road in bad weather.
Source: Tiffany Knudsen, Content Manager & Stephanie Williams, Safety Consultant II
Winter Driving Techniques from AAA
Regaining Control in a Skid
Even careful drivers experience skids. You lose traction and your wheels spin or lock, usually when braking, cornering or accelerating. Effective skid-control maneuvers — and a calm approach — will help you regain control. If the rear wheels lose traction, resulting in an oversteering situation, use these steps to regain control:
Putting on the Brakes
Stopping on a slippery surface requires more distance, so increase your following distance. Focus your attention as far ahead as possible – at least 20 to 30 seconds. Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) are designed to prevent wheels from locking and to retain steering control during panic braking. Sensors located at wheels detect lock-up. The anti-lock system relieves pressure as needed, allowing all four wheels to continue to turn while maintaining steering control.
You should use the “plant and steer” method with antilock brake systems. Do not remove your foot from the brake or pump the pedal. If you apply pressure and the wheels lock momentarily, you might feel the brake pedal pulse back against your foot. This is normal. Just hold the brake pedal down and steer. Pumping the pedal actually works against the system. The best way to stop on a slippery surface if your vehicle doesn’t have antilock brakes is to use threshold braking. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal to the “threshold” of locking your brakes. If your heel leaves the floor, the wheels could lock because control of the brake pedal is transferred from your ankle muscles to your thigh muscles, which are not capable of the finer control required in this situation. Under the stress of trying to stop quickly, drivers almost inevitably use too much pressure, resulting in locked wheels (on non-ABS-equipped vehicles). If this happens, release pressure on the brake pedal by one or two degrees, then immediately reapply slight pressure. Continue this technique as needed until the vehicle comes to a stop.
Getting out of a Tough Spot
You need steady pulling and moderate power when traction is poor. The best remedy when wheels are stuck in the mud or a soft shoulder is to apply power slowly.
Steering clear of collisions
You may need to take evasive action in poor weather to avoid a collision. Steering around an obstacle is preferred to braking at speeds above 25 mph because less distance is required to steer around an object than to brake to a stop. In wet weather, sudden braking often leads to skids. There are two acceptable methods of emergency steering:
Recognize a Water Hazard
Your vehicle’s grip on the road depends upon a small area of contact where the tires meet the road surface, called the tire’s footprint. The amount of water on the road, your speed and the condition of your tires affect footprint traction.
To reduce the chances of hydroplaning, slow down, avoid hard braking or turning sharply and drive in the tracks of the vehicle ahead of you.
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