Winter weather in the mountains of Western North Carolina can be very unpredictable – a warm, sunny, magnificent Monday often leads to a cold, snowy, and treacherous Tuesday.
Since we spend so much time in our cars, now is the time to prepare for the potential dangers that winter driving can bring and focus some attention on supplies and good driving habits that can be the difference between arriving home safely or ending up in a ditch. Snow and ice on the roads, strong winds, and dense fog can strike almost anytime, anywhere. Listed below are some good tips to guard against road hazards that are unique to inclement weather.
Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination during bad weather. Driving fast in poor conditions not only puts you in danger, but those around you as well.
Clean off your windshield and windows completely before you start driving. Clearing off snow and ice prior to even moving your car gives you a much better picture of conditions as well as traffic movement.
Keep a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. Wet or icy roads can require three to nine times more distance to stop than dry pavement. This is one excellent “rule of the road” that is frequently overlooked by drivers who are unaccustomed to snowy conditions – stay away from other vehicles – you are very likely to slide when you least expect it!
Stay below the posted speed limit in rainy, snowy, or icy conditions. Traveling on a wet road at high speed can cause your tires to lose contact with the road (hydroplaning). If you start to hydroplane, the only way to regain control of your vehicle is to slow down.
If you get stuck in snow, avoid spinning the wheels. Instead, point the front wheels straight ahead, shovel out snow in front of and behind all four wheels – and from under the car – and put sand, rock salt, cinders, or traction mats just in front of the spinning wheels. If you have a stick shift, rock back and forth, rolling a little further each time. Once you’re out, keep moving with slow acceleration – a sudden increase in speed is likely to put you right back where you were. Please note that this very important tip requires some advance planning – well-prepared drivers might consider keeping supplies in the trunk for getting out of a slick spot.
Use low gears when traveling on slick surfaces, especially up and down hills, to give added traction.
Keep your headlights on in any type of storm, even during the day.
If the windshield and windows will not stay clear of snow, pull over safely, stop and clean them off. Good visibility is one of the most important safeguards against an accident.
When entering a patch of fog, slow down gradually and turn on the wipers and defroster. Remember that high beams produce too much glare in fog.
Bridges, overpasses, and shaded areas tend to freeze first and stay frozen longer than the rest of the road. Slow down when approaching these areas.
Depending on the remoteness of your destination, it might be wise to pack some bottled water, snack bars, and additional thermal clothes or blankets in the event of a serious snowstorm.
Listen to weather forecasts or call a weather information line before driving somewhere. If weather and visibility are hazardous and your trip is not urgent, stay home.