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By Leslie Tomaino, Naval Safety Command Safety Promotions-Public Affairs
There were 440 fatal crashes and an estimated 33,000 crashes resulting in injuries that occurred in wintry conditions in 2019, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA). Additionally, an estimated 182,000 police-reported crashes also occurred in freezing conditions. If you are living in or traveling to or through a region where it snows, sleets, and ices, use the three “Ps” to minimize your risk on the road: Prepare for the trip; Protect yourself, and Prevent crashes on the road.
Here are several tips to help you prepare your vehicle for potential wintry weather conditions.
1) Check your vehicle headlights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers, and interior lights. Check your trailer brake lights and turn signals, if necessary.
2) You can quickly go through a lot of windshield wiper fluid in a single snowstorm. Fill your vehicle’s reservoir with a wintertime mixture before colder weather hits. Make sure defrosters and windshield wipers work and replace any worn blades. Consider installing heavy-duty winter wipers if you live in an area with a lot of snow and ice.
3) Make sure you have enough coolant in your vehicle and that it meets the manufacturer’s specifications. See your vehicle owner’s manual for recommendations. Check the cooling system for leaks, test the coolant and drain and replace the old coolant.
4) A consideration specifically for electric and hybrid-electric vehicles is that lower temperatures can increase the drain on the battery. Generally, lithium-ion batteries have reduced energy at lower temperatures. Additionally, most vehicles will use battery power for self-heating in low temperatures. The battery drain due to heating can be minimized by keeping your electric car as warm as possible during freezing temperatures. A common way to do this: plug your vehicle in at night during the winter, keeping the battery temperature in its optimal range. For those with fuel-powered cars, it is ideal to keep gas tanks close to full as much as possible.
Good preparation includes thoughtful planning. Plan your route using local weather and traffic reports before heading out. If the roads are not in good shape, consider postponing non-essential travel until the roads are clear. Your loved ones can keep your plate warm and understand your safety comes first.
Protect yourself. If you have to go out, ensure you are prepared for any extended delays. If adverse weather is in the forecast, consider changing your departure time to avoid being on the road during the worst of the storm, and make sure you are prepared for any extended delays.
Even those who are prepared or used to driving in snow-prone regions can find themselves suddenly stuck or stranded in wintry weather, so make sure you carry items in your vehicle to handle everyday winter-related driving tasks and supplies you might need in an emergency. Recommended items include a snow shovel, broom, and ice scraper; abrasive material (sand or kitty litter) in case your vehicle gets stuck in the snow; jumper cables, flashlights, and warning devices (flares and emergency markers); blankets for protection from the cold; a cell phone and car charger, water, food, and any necessary medicine.
Prevent and minimize the likelihood of an accident by ensuring you are mentally and physically fit during your drive. On longer trips, plan enough time to stop to stretch, get something to eat, check your phone and change drivers, and rest if you feel drowsy. While driving, increase your following distance enough, so you have plenty of time to stop for vehicles ahead of you. Snowplows travel slowly, make wide turns, and frequently stop, overlap lanes, and exit the road, so don’t crowd a snowplow or travel beside it. If you find yourself behind a snowplow, keep a safe distance and use caution if you pass the plow.
These tips can help ensure you safely reach your destinations and not be an unsafe turkey on winter roads this winter season.
For more information on winter driving, visit https://www.nhtsa.gov/winter-driving-tips and view additional resources like NAVSAFECOM’s fall and winter safety presentation at https://safety.navy.afpims.mil/Stand-Down/Safety-Stand-Down/.