Prepare for Hazardous Winter Travel

Over the past three weeks, I have shared recommendations to protect your business, employees and customers in a four-part Winter Defense series. In this final edition, I address ways to prepare for winter driving. If you’ve missed the other Winter Defense topics, check out Dress to Protect, Recognize Dangerous Symptoms, and Protect your Business from Slips and Falls.

As we all know, winter driving can be hazardous. It requires extra planning and precautions, but can also be unpredictable with surprise snow totals, drifting, black ice or emergency closures.

Preparedness is the best approach. Check the weather each evening for the next morning. Will your commute to the office, job site or your first appointment be affected by a storm? If there is a chance that it will, plan to leave earlier to allow more travel time. Many winter crashes are the result of driving too fast for conditions, as was captured last month in a traffic cam video of a pileup on a snowy Wisconsin highway. When it is snowing, traveling the speed limit can still be too fast. Take the pressure of running late off your mind: leave early, slow down, and maybe consider an alternate route that might have less traffic or better roads.

Along with leaving early, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation recommends basic maintenance before the snow starts to fly. Check your tires to ensure you have good tread for traction in the snow. Your car may be slow to start in the winter cold, so a strong battery will help to ensure you have enough cranking power. It is also a good time to replace your windshield wipers and fill your windshield washer with low-temp wash fluid. Use the kind that does not require mixing with water so that there is less of a chance that it will freeze. Reduce the risk of gas line freeze by never letting your fuel tank go below half full.

The Wisconsin DOT recommends keeping a basic winter survival kit in your vehicle: flashlight, batteries, blanket, snacks, water, gloves, boots and first-aid kit. You should also load your car with winter travel gear: tire chains, ice scraper/snowbrush, jumper cables and road flares. If you’re stuck with your tires spinning on snow or ice, kitty litter or sand can be used under the wheels for better traction.

If you must drive when it is snowing, remember to slow down and leave more distance between you and the car ahead. Leaving extra room ahead allows you to slow just by taking your foot off the gas pedal, but if you do need to brake, do it gently — this will reduce the risk of a skid. If your car starts to skid, always steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go; if the front of your car is skidding left, then steer to the right. Remember: anti-lock brakes, traction control, four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive will not let you stop faster in bad weather. They don’t replace common sense!

Have you witnessed dangerous driving in hazardous conditions? What do you do to make sure you get to your destination safely?

-Tim Hoffmann

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