Safely operating a motor vehicle in wintry weather is a challenge for drivers of all ages. For seniors, the hazards of winter driving can be compounded further by a variety of issues such as decreased reaction time, reduced mobility, and other age-related health concerns. However, with a little extra planning, preparation, and caution, senior motorists—and younger drivers alike—can commute with confidence this winter. Here are some timely tips that will help drivers stay safe behind the wheel when winter weather makes driving dangerous:
Winterize your vehicle
Having a vehicle that is in good working order and ready to handle winter’s worst is most important. It’s critical to have a mechanic check any component or system that is either integral to safe winter driving or more likely to break down or fail in winter conditions. For example, make sure the motor oil is of the correct weight for winter. Depending on your vehicle, you may need engine oil of a lower viscosity for winter driving. Also, make sure you have plenty of windshield wiper fluid in the reservoir and that the fluid you’re using won’t freeze. It’s a good idea to keep an extra jug of wiper fluid in your trunk, as well.
In addition, check to make sure your car’s battery is fully charged and that the terminals are clean, the windshield wipers are working and the blades are in good condition, the headlights and taillights are functioning, belts and hoses are in good shape, the door locks are well lubricated, and the heating and cooling system is operating properly (i.e., the antifreeze is at the correct level and the air ducts and fan are working well so heat can disperse throughout your car). Your tires should be rated for winter driving and properly inflated, and your braking system, including the parking brake, should be in good working order.
Don’t overlook exhaust-system maintenance either. If, for example, you end up off the road in a ditch or stuck in a snow drift and you have to start the engine from time to time in order to stay warm, a loose tailpipe could allow deadly carbon monoxide to enter the vehicle.
Keep a clear view
Before driving after a snowfall or ice accumulation, be sure to brush or scrape your windshield and windows completely so you have an unobstructed view of the road. Starting your car and running the defroster before you start to clean off the car can assist in clearing the windows. Also, be sure to clean snow and ice from your headlights and taillights as well as off the roof of your vehicle. Snow or ice left on the roof can unexpectedly avalanche onto your windshield or back window while you’re driving, obscuring your vision.
Adjust your driving
The key to driving safely in wintry conditions is to slow down so that you have more time to react to road conditions. Also, you should:
- Allow more time to reach destinations.
- Try to anticipate turns and plan movements in advance. Sudden maneuvers are likely to cause skids.
- Try to look further ahead on the road.
- Allow a greater space cushion between your vehicle and others on the road.
- Test traction from time to time by lightly applying the brakes.
- Activate windshield wipers sooner—before meeting oncoming traffic that might splash water onto your windshield.
- Avoid passing other vehicles on snowy or icy roads unless it’s absolutely necessary.
- Choose the lane of travel with the least snow or ice in blowing snow.
- Try to follow in the tracks of other vehicles when the lane is completely obscured by snow or ice—even though it may not line up with the center of the lane.
- Be aware that bridges may become icy before other roads because air flows above and below the roadway.
- Use low-beam headlights in snow or fog. ❦
Know how to recover from a skid
If your vehicle starts to skid on a slick road surface, remove your foot from the accelerator to reduce your speed, then gently apply the brakes. Turn the steering wheel in the direction that the rear end is moving. In other words, if the rear end is sliding to the right, steer gently to the right, and vice versa. Another way to think of it is to steer in the direction you want the car to go. Just be careful not to steer too hard in either direction or you can easily lose control.