Dangerous winter driving conditions across the country cause thousands of vehicle accidents and hundreds of traffic fatalities each year. In Virginia, we have some kind of precipitation on one day out of every three. Here in the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains, that precipitation is often snow.
Depending on where you live and drive, you’re apt to encounter treacherous road conditions for approximately one-third of the year in Virginia. Preparing your vehicle and adjusting your driving technique for the snowy months can help to keep you and your passengers safe on the roads this winter.
How to Prepare for Winter Driving
In winter, it’s a good idea to drive only when you have to. Eliminating as many unnecessary car trips as possible reduces your risk of being involved in a crash. When you must drive, you can prepare yourself for winter hazards by:
- Keeping your gas tank full and your tires properly inflated
- Making sure your lights, turn signals, and flashers are in working order
- Checking your battery, brakes, and windshield wipers
- Ensuring that oil, transmission fluid, windshield wiper fluid, and brake fluid are topped off
- Clearing ice and snow from your windows and mirrors
- Carrying blankets and an emergency kit with a flashlight, water, some food, flares, jumper cables, a battery-operated heater, and an ice scraper
- Putting a bag of salt and a shovel in the trunk
- Taking your cellphone and a car charger with you whenever you’re in the car
- Fastening your seat belt and being sure that your passengers do so as well
- Keeping small children in properly installed child safety seats as required by law
Before leaving home, check weather and road conditions online at 511virginia.org and leave early enough to avoid having to rush.
Drive Like It’s Winter
Just as road conditions change in the winter, so must your driving technique. When bad weather hits, adjust your behind-the-wheel behavior in the following ways to match the season:
- Slow down.
- Accelerate, decelerate, and brake very gradually.
- Avoid sudden starts, stops, and turns.
- Leave extra distance between your car and the vehicle ahead of you. Don’t tailgate.
- Don’t use your cruise control on ice or snow.
- Pick up speed gradually to build momentum before climbing a hill. Use your low gear.
- Stay well behind snowplows and salt trucks. If you must pass one, do so on the left and leave plenty of clearance.
- Be especially careful at intersections and parking lot entrances and exits, where piled-up snow could reduce visibility.
- Remember that bridges and overpasses freeze before the rest of the roadway does.
- Turn your headlights on well before dark or set them to come on automatically.
Snow and ice that have melted during the day can re-freeze when the sun goes down and temperatures drop, so be especially cautious when driving at night in the winter. If your rear tires skid, take your foot off the accelerator and turn in the direction of the skid to straighten out your car. If your front tires skid, decelerate to let the tires gain traction again, and steer in the direction where you want to go.
What to Do If You Get Stuck
If you are stuck in a drift or a snowstorm, spinning your wheels will just dig you in more deeply. If you can’t dig yourself out, call AAA or your insurance company’s roadside assistance number. Put your flashers on and keep your car running for heat but make sure there’s no snow blocking your exhaust pipe. If you get low on fuel, turn your car off and on intermittently, so you can use your heater, but remember that your flashers can drain your battery if your car’s not running. Don’t get out and walk in a snowstorm unless you know you’re close to shelter or a source of help.
Have You Been Hurt in a Wintertime Wreck in Virginia?
Although following the suggestions above will reduce your risk of a wintertime wreck, accidents do frequently happen in bad winter weather. If you’re hurt in a winter crash caused by another motorist, an experienced car accident attorney can help you with your insurance claim for damages, including medical bills, lost income, property damage, and pain and suffering. If your case is not resolved through the insurance claims process, your lawyer can file a lawsuit and fight for you in court. Contact us online, start a chat, or call us at 540-341-0007 to schedule your free consultation. You pay no attorney fees until we win your case.