As the days grow shorter and the weather grows colder, driving can become tricky, even for the most experienced drivers. According to AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research, winter is the deadliest season on U.S. roads.
To help keep you safe this winter, we’ve asked AAA Driver Education instructors to provide some insight on mistakes drivers make and how to safely navigate winter roads.
Driving instructors agree the biggest mistake drivers make is driving too fast for the weather conditions.
“Some road hazards are difficult to see, such as black ice,” said Kellie O’Riordan, traffic safety program manager and lead driving instructor for AAA Driver Education. “Drivers underestimate their risk on the roadways, which can end in disaster.”
Their best advice? Slow down.
Traction can be reduced by 50% when driving in the snow, so slowing down and allowing for more stopping distance is critical. AAA’s instructors say all drivers should brush up on their winter driving skills by practicing before taking long drives in the snow or on ice. It’s important to get a feel for the reduced traction.
The AAA How to Drive curriculum encourages drivers to pay attention to the traction during every drive. To test traction, find an area free of traffic. Then, slow the vehicle to 15 mph and quickly press the brake pedal. Note if the tires begin to skid or if the anti-lock brakes engage earlier than normal. In times of low traction, drivers will need to slow their speed to maintain traction and allow for effective braking.
“Allow for more time when traveling in the snow,” said Shawn Bailey, AAA Driver Education instructor and retired Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper.
“Slow down 10 to 15 miles under the posted speed limit, especially on interstates when cars are in the ditches and medians due to winter weather,” said Todd Scales, AAA Driver Education instructor and retired Ohio State Highway Patrol sergeant. “During these times first responders handling these incidents are at serious risk of being struck.”
AAA’s instructors warn that bridges, overpasses and ramps freeze first, so use extra caution when driving in these areas. They also say prepping your car by clearing off the snow and keeping up with regular vehicle maintenance can help improve safety on winter roads.
“Make sure your tires have adequate tread, your wipers are in great condition and that you keep your fuel topped off,” said Scales.
Clean headlights in good working condition are essential for driving on dark roads. AAA research found that clouded or yellowed headlights produce only 20% of the light they did when they were new. In addition, the halogen headlights found in most vehicles today may fail to safely illuminate unlit roadways at speeds as low as 40 mph.
“Slow down, scan more frequently and allow more reaction time when driving in the dark,” said Bailey.
“Also, dim dashboard lights so you can see better outside of the vehicle,” said Scales.
“If you are temporarily blinded by someone who has their bright lights on as they approach you, look to the right edge of the road until you pass, so you remain in your lane,” said O’Riordan.
Having an emergency kit can help in case you do end up getting stuck. This can include a snow shovel, warm clothes, blankets, drinking water, a first-aid kit, basic toolkit, snacks, a bag of abrasive material (sand, salt, cat litter, etc.), an ice scraper, jumper cables, warning triangles, a mobile phone and a mobile phone charger.
“When in doubt, slow down and choose a path that reduces your risk and that is well-traveled and cleared,” said O’Riordan.
Following this advice can help keep you safe on the roads this winter.
For more information about AAA Driver Education classes, visit AAA.com/DriverEducation.