Time to get into safe winter-driving mindset

  • Published
  • By Eric T. Hoehn
  • 88th Air Base Wing Safety Office

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Oh -- The best advice for driving in bad winter weather is to not drive at all, if you can avoid it.

If not, don’t go out until the snowplows and salt/sand trucks have had a chance to do their work, and allow yourself extra time to reach your destination.

As with any time you drive, it’s critical to make sure your car is operating properly. Now is an excellent time to have a competent mechanic give it a thorough look. Consult your owner’s manual for guidance specific to your vehicle’s handling characteristics.

Here are some more tips from the National Safety Council, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles and Washington State Government Information & Services:

Driving safely on icy roads

  • Decrease your speed and leave plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front.
  • Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.
  • Turn on your lights to increase visibility for other motorists.
  • Keep your lights and windshield clean.
  • Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
  • Don’t use cruise control or overdrive.
  • Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways such as bridges.
  • Don’t pass snowplows and sand trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you’re likely to find the road in front of them much worse than the road behind.
  • Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.  

If you become stranded…

  • Do not leave your vehicle unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to possible help and you’re certain you will improve your situation.
  • To attract attention, light two flares and place one at each end of the car a safe distance away. Hang a brightly colored cloth from your antenna.
  • If you are sure the vehicle’s exhaust pipe is not blocked, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so, depending upon the amount of gas in the tank.
  • To protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia, use woolen items and blankets to keep warm.
  • Keep at least one window open slightly. Heavy snow and ice can seal a car shut.

Other considerations

Make sure someone knows when you departed, your destination, intended travel route and expected arrival time. While a cellphone can be a great way to make a distress call, remember it should never take the place of predeparture communication. Try to only travel when necessary during inclement weather.

Call Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s Installation Snow and Weather Information Line at 937-656-SNOW (7669) for any base-closure or delayed-reporting information.

Think ahead, be cautious and situationally aware so you make it to your destination and back safely.