Winter can be an especially perilous time to be on the roads. Snow, ice, fog and longer nights present challenges to drivers that can lead to crashes. People do less driving in winter, yet we have more crashes per mile driven. Some 10,780 people were killed in car crashes between December and March in 2013–fully one-third of the total for each year. Non-fatal collisions also occur with greater frequency in winter months.
You may be an ace behind the wheel when the sun is shining and roads are dry, but driving in winter weather can be a different story. Drivers need to recalibrate and adjust their driving for winter road conditions.
“Travel can be treacherous when roadway surfaces are compromised during winter storms,” says Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “The good news is that in-vehicle technologies can help drivers by providing advance warnings and preventing loss of control.”
NSC and the University of Iowa recently partnered to launch a campaign called MyCarDoesWhat, to educate drivers about vehicle safety technologies designed to prevent crashes. The MyCarDoesWhat campaign offers three major pieces of advice for driving in wintry conditions:
• Slow down. This is the golden rule of winter driving. Drivers frequently underestimate how long it takes to brake and how difficult it can be to steer on slippery roads.
• Do not use cruise control when driving on slippery surfaces. It will diminish your control over the car and reduce your reaction time in the event of a skid.
• Bridges and overpasses freeze before roadways, so be alert in cold weather when approaching a bridge. While a careful and skillful driver is always a vehicle’s best safety feature, many safety technologies can help prevent or reduce the severity of winter-related crashes. They include:
• Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) help drivers maintain control by preventing wheels from locking up. Your ABS works differently than traditional brakes, and requires you to drive differently too. It delivers and releases precise braking pressure to each wheel as needed, so you shouldn’t pump the brakes when you have ABS. Just hold them down firmly and look and steer in the direction you want to go. They may buzz and vibrate when the ABS has activated.
• Traction control helps you accelerate without spinning out on slippery surfaces.
• With electronic stability control, your car’s computer helps sense when you may be losing control around a corner or curve and can stabilize your car if it begins to veer off your intended path.
• Adaptive headlights adjust to changing roadway conditions, such as curves, to provide optimum illumination along the roadway during the long winter nights and periods of low daytime visibility.
“Driving in snow and ice requires much more focus on the conditions and an ability to adapt to an ever changing, slippery environment,” says Daniel McGehee, director of the Transportation and Vehicle Safety Program at the University of Iowa.
Research shows that most consumers are unsure about how some potentially life-saving vehicle safety technologies work. To get better acquainted with your car’s features and learn important winter driving skills, visit MyCarDoesWhat.org on Twitter and Facebook for videos and tools.
With the right knowledge and skills, you can make your winter journeys safer.