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10 Tips for Safe Winter Driving

Experts give their advice for preparing yourself and your car for winter's challenges.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jodi Gilman knows about the perils of winter driving all too well. She got in a very scary accident last winter. "Because it was a sunny day I didn't think there was any black ice," says Gilman, a graduate student in Northampton, Mass.

That all changed when she saw the car in front of her spin out of control. She attempted to step on the brakes, but that didn't work. After a terrifying moment of spinning, she ended up safely in a pit, but not without learning a significant lesson. "There was no distance between our vehicles," she says. Gilman was driving at the speed limit, but given the dangerous conditions the limit was just too high.

For many people, the winter months bring snow, ice, and more darkness than light. All of these factors can translate into more dangerous driving conditions. That's why it's important to take the necessary steps to prepare yourself and your vehicle for winter driving.

Taking those steps are the keys to protecting yourself from injury and accidents, says Sara Weis, a representative from the national American Automobile Association (AAA) offices in Washington, D.C. This involves more than just wearing your seatbelt, although that is a good place to start. Here are expert tips for safely tackling winter roads.

Match Speed to Weather Conditions

A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that the speed limit is always a safe traveling speed in any conditions. "Speed limits are posted for optimal conditions," Weis tells WebMD. "More crashes involving injuries and property damage occur in winter months, and not slowing down is the main concern," she says.

Reducing your speed is the best way to avoid accidents and injuries. This means allowing for extra travel time during your winter workday commute or excursion. You will also need extra time if there is snow and ice to contend with before you step on the gas.

Increase Your Following Distance

Weis says increasing your following distance is also extremely important and a key in preventing collisions. Accidents and injuries often occur because of sudden stops. Leave adequate space between your vehicle and other cars; according to AAA, a following distance of about eight to 10 seconds should suffice.

This will also protect you if the car in front of you is suddenly out of control, as was the case with Gilman. The bottom line: though you should never tailgate, doing so during poor weather is even more dangerous.

Schedule a Checkup for Your Car

You want to make sure your battery has enough juice. Weis says a full battery is required in cold weather. "Battery-related problems are what we see most frequently," says Jason Subocz, the service manager at Pro Lube Oil Change and Tune Up in Northampton, Mass. He recommends that you make sure your battery is fully charged. Also important, says Subocz, is to get your antifreeze checked.

Subocz also recommends that you make sure there is adequate tread on the tires, and check to see that the tires are properly inflated as well. You can have your car checked out at most auto stores and gas stations. You also want to make sure that your headlights and brakes are working properly, says Weis.

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