Engaging in certain driving habits when winter weather hits could put drivers in danger, as well as their passengers and the others with whom they share the road. The winter months in Illinois often bring rain, ice, sleet, snow, severe wind, and fog, which may increase the risk of collisions. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, weather-related accidents cause more than 418,000 injuries and close to 5,000 deaths annually in the U.S.
Winter Driving Presents Unique Hazards
Drivers face a unique set of challenges during the winter months in addition to the common safety concerns they must deal with every day. Winter weather conditions, including icy or slick road surfaces, blowing snow, and accumulated snow and debris may affect visibility and the road surface friction, as well as cause lane obstructions and roadway damage. Consequently, drivers’ ability to see the road and potential hazards in front of them may be impaired, and so too may be their ability to react to situations on the road and control their vehicles.
1. Driving Too Fast for Conditions
Motorists often continue to drive at or over the posted speed limit when making winter commutes. Speed limits are set based on ideal road conditions, meaning dry pavement and clear visibility. The weather conditions during the winter months may reduce tire traction. Consequently, driving too fast on winter roads may increase the risk of motorists skidding out on patches of black ice or otherwise losing control of their vehicles due to slick road surfaces.
2. Driving with Running Lights Only
When the weather turns wintery, running lights do not do enough to make motorists’ vehicles clearly visible to those around them. The running lights may adequately identify drivers’ cars and intentions in fair weather. Fog, rain, snow, and other winter weather may make it more difficult for people to see the road in front of them and the vehicles around them. If drivers cannot see the other vehicles around them, they may rear-end a car that brakes suddenly or merge into another vehicle when changing lanes.
3. Not Leaving Enough Space Between Vehicles
Following too closely is hazardous in any weather, but not leaving an adequate space buffer between vehicles in winter could result in avoidable collisions. Winter road conditions, such as wet, slick, or snow-covered streets affect the ability of cars’ tires to grip the road, thus avoiding skidding and allowing them the necessary friction for vehicles to slow and stop. Therefore, vehicles may need four to 10 times the time and distance to safely stop in winter weather as they require in more favorable conditions. If they do not maintain adequate space between themselves and the cars around them, motorists may not be able to react and maneuver their vehicles around situations or hazards on the road.
4. Staying Bundled Up
Winter outerwear and shoes keep people warm when they are outside, but inside their vehicles, coats, hats, gloves, and boots may impair people’s ability to drive safely. Hats and coats may make it hard for drivers to look over their shoulders and limit their lines of sight. Boots may be too wide for people’s feet to move freely on and off the gas, brake, and clutch pedals, and their thick bottoms may cause drivers to struggle to feel the responsiveness of the pedals.
5. Failing to Prepare for the Conditions
Especially when making their everyday commutes, people often neglect to perform the necessary vehicle checks and have the supplies they may need in situations that may result due to winter weather. The conditions may change abruptly during the winter months. This may result in traffic delays, accidents, or other emergencies that leave people’s vehicles stuck or otherwise disabled. Further, the risk of breaking down may increase through the winter as the low temperatures take a toll on vehicle batteries, tires, and other systems; potentially leaving motorists stranded.
How Can Drivers Stay Safe?
While some winter weather-related accidents are unavoidable, making certain adjustments to their driving habits during the winter months may help drivers stay safe. Some of the steps people can take to commute safely over the winter include the following:
- Slow down
- Turn the headlights on for increased visibility
- Avoid tailgating
- Allow large trucks a wider berth
- Wear shoes appropriate for driving and
- Take the coats and hats off
Drivers should perform regular checks, maintenance, and tune-ups on their vehicles year-round; however, they should use extra care to ensure their vehicles are in working order during the winter. Recognizing that cars break down and crashes happen, people should also ensure their vehicles have warm blankets, a change of clothing, a first aid kit, water, and high-energy snacks, so they are prepared in the event they get stuck.