January is one of the snowiest times of the year. And while snow brings the joys of sledding, hot cocoa and days off, it also brings greater driving hazards. Whether you're a veteran snow bunny or new to winter driving, use these tips to stay safe on the roads this season.
Prep your tires
One of the most important factors to a safe drive through the snow is the condition of your tires. Good traction is often the difference between controlled driving and landing in a snowy ditch. Before heading out this season, check your tire tread. For snow traction, you'll need at least 6/32 inches.
If you plan on driving in snow regularly, consider changing your summer or all-season tires out for snow tires. Keep in mind, however, that you will need to replace all four tires with snow tires. Mounting only two snow tires to the front or back will make your car more likely to spin out and reduce turning control, warns edmunds.com.
Whether you opt for snow tires or stick with all-season tires, check your tire pressure before heading out. Maintaining proper inflation is key to safe handling and traction on the road. Use the information label on the inside of the driver's doorjamb or your auto manual for the correct inflation levels for your vehicle. Professional automotive technicians can help you get your tires ready for the winter.
Inclement weather means it will be harder to see and be seen on the road. To lower the chance of an accident, take steps to increase your visibility on the road.
Before taking off, clear all windows and mirrors of snow and ice. Add extra time to your schedule so you don't rush over this step. A small peephole-sized clearing on the windshield does not count as adequate visibility.
Additionally, brush off any snow that may have accumulated over the headlights and tail lights, and keep your headlights on while you drive, even if it is the middle of the day. Your headlights will help other vehicles see you on the road.
Drive slowly and brake early
Posted speed limits are based on clear, dry weather conditions. Snowy or icy roads require extra time to slow down and stop, so reduce your speed and be cautious when approaching stops and intersections.
When you first get on the road, test the driving conditions. At low speed, check your braking and steering control. If you notice sliding or slow responsiveness, reduce your speed and proceed with caution, or consider turning back until conditions are clearer.
Keep in mind that heavier vehicles like trucks take even longer to brake, so leave a generous following distance between your vehicle and the next, and avoid cutting quickly in front them.
Be careful on bridges and exits
Bridges freeze over more rapidly than roads, explains AARP. This means that, even if an approaching road's conditions are reasonably safe, the bridge deck could have dangerous snow or ice patches. Therefore, slow down and drive cautiously when approaching any bridge in winter weather.
Use similar caution when exiting the freeway. Often exit ramps have less anti-icing materials than the main road, making them more prone to slippery conditions. Give yourself a lot of time to slow down as you approach an exit.
When in doubt, stay home
Sometimes the best way to stay safe on snowy roads is to avoid them altogether. Use your eyes and ears to evaluate road conditions. Check the local radio or news stations for weather and traffic updates. If you have children, check school closing listings before heading out to drop them off on your way to work.
It is often not only safer but also quicker to wait out the storm than to press through and get stuck on the side of the road. If the visibility or road conditions are poor, consider delaying your departure until conditions are clear.
For help keeping your car safe for winter, visit one of the many Jensen Tire & Auto locations throughout the state.