The holiday season kicks off later this month with Thanksgiving, and colder weather is on the way. This month, we will offer tips on holiday parties, dealing with snow and ice and ways to prepare for the months ahead.

Holiday Parties

Every year around this time, holiday parties increase the number of people who drive while intoxicated, so keep an eye out and use extra caution in the months leading up to New Year’s Eve.

  • Thankfully, people who drink at holiday parties often make the wise choice to take a taxi or FHV, as suggested by public service announcements. Please be prepared to be a little more patient than usual. These passengers may be intoxicated – which can be irritating – but remember that they are making the roads safer by requesting a ride from you.
  • Passengers are sometimes depressed during the holiday season for personal reasons. Spreading joy to such a passenger will make you feel good and help them through a tough time. We all know how that feels. Please be extra friendly and understanding.

Before, During and After a Snowstorm

  • When it’s snowing or there is snow on the ground, always try to leave early. Expect trips to take twice as long as usual.
  • Plan your route to avoid steep grades and lightly-traveled roads.
  • Slow down. Icy or snowy roads reduce a vehicle’s traction and can cause loss of control. Under these conditions, the speed limit is often NOT a safe speed.
  • Increase your following distance. It can take from 3 to 10 times longer to stop on winter-slick pavement than a dry road. The “two-second rule” for determining a safe following distance must be increased accordingly to avoid “rear-ender” accidents.
  • Most vehicles now have ABS (anti-lock braking systems). If you have ABS and begin to skid, it is recommended that you stomp hard on the pedal and hold it down while steering around the obstacle. Just remember: A little bit of steering goes a very long way in an emergency. On icy or snow-covered roads, modify your ABS technique. After you “stomp” and the ABS begins cycling – and you feel pulses or hear the system working – ease up slightly on the pedal until the pulsing happens only once a second.
  • If you have an older car without ABS and feel your car sliding, push the brake pedal hard until the wheels stop rolling, then immediately release the brake long enough to allow them to begin turning again. Repeat this sequence rapidly to get maximum grip for your tires.
  • Too much steering can be dangerous in a slide. If your front tires lose grip, the common – but incorrect – reaction is to continue turning the steering wheel. This can make things worse. If the icy conditions end and the front tires regain grip, your car will dart in whatever direction the wheels are pointed – which could be oncoming traffic or a telephone pole.
  • Do not rush to pick up a radio or prearranged passenger. Offer ETAs that you can realistically keep. Remember: Your safety and the safety of your passengers are of utmost importance.
  • After a snowstorm, continue to use caution when you are outside your vehicle assisting passengers. Slippery sidewalks can cause dangerous falls and watch for ice melting and falling from high rise buildings.
  • Children and teenagers often throw snowballs at taxis and FHVs as a prank. DO NOT stop and respond out of anger. The situation could escalate into a more serious incident. It could be a trap to get you out of your car.
  • Make sure the inside of your windows is thoroughly clean, so you can see properly. Apply a water-shedding material (like Rain-X) to the outside of all windows, including the mirrors. Make sure your windshield washer system works and is full of an anti-icing fluid.
  • If your windows are fogged, run the air-conditioner and select the fresh air option. It’s fine to set the temperature to “hot.”
  • Make sure your headlights and taillights are clear of snow. If you have an older car with sand-pitted headlights, get a new set of lenses. There are products designed to prevent future pitting.
  • Watch out for “black ice.” If the road looks slick, it probably is. Black ice is nearly transparent and often looks like a harmless puddle. It’s not harmless.
  • Remember where icy roads tend to occur, like bridges and intersections, and drive accordingly.
  • ESC (electronic stability control) and AWD (all-wheel drive) are great features but technology offers no miracles, and can get you in trouble by offering a false sense of security. AWD can help a vehicle accelerate or keep moving; but can’t help you turn on a snow-covered road or stop at an icy intersection. ESC can help prevent spinouts, but doesn’t add traction to tires.
  • Keep your vehicle interior warm but remember: An excessively warm vehicle can make you drowsy. Alternate vehicle temperatures to prevent drowsiness. Open the driver-side window periodically to allow in fresh air.

Heed Winter Storm Warnings

Thousands of motorists get stranded during the winter months. Some die, others suffer injuries and frostbite. Still others must endure delays and the inconvenience of waiting until someone up ahead is towed or pushed out of trouble. These situations can be avoided by following these suggestions:

  • Stay off the road when traveler’s warnings are issued. Winter storm alerts are a serious business. Many motorists wind up stranded because they leave home or work after being warned roads are impassible.
  • If you’re away from home and road conditions suddenly become impassible, stay where you are. As much as you might want to get home, you don’t want to get stuck in a snowdrift halfway there. Don’t bet your life (or anyone else’s) on four-wheel drive. In a serious blizzard, you’re not much better off than someone in a conventional car.

“Winterize” Your Vehicle Before the First Snowstorm

Many motorists find themselves stuck or stranded each winter because of car trouble that could have been avoided by simple preventive maintenance. The following items should be checked before service stations are jammed:

  • Battery charge and condition
  • Radiator coolant, hoses, thermostat, defroster/heater, wiper blades and washer fluid
  • Spark plugs, engine timing
  • A tire requires at least a 6/32-inch deep tread to have good traction. “All-season” tires often don’t have great snow traction. It may be worth using snow tires during the winter months. Make sure your rear tires have at least as much tread as your front tires. If you choose winter tires, get four.
  • Defroster and Heater
  • Headlights, taillights and turn signals
  • Brake condition and adjustment
  • Oil (use winter grade oil)
  • Windshield wiper blades

Keep an emergency Survival Kit in Your Vehicle

Store the following items in your vehicle BEFORE winter weather sets in:

  • Several warm blankets
  • Small shovel, sand and/or kitty litter
  • Safety flares
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Jumper cables
  • A red flag or cloth
  • Warm socks, an extra pair of gloves or mittens, a warm hat or cap, extra sweaters or shirts
  • Spare ice scraper
  • An extra “fully charged” cell phone battery
  • Several chocolate or high energy food bars
Article by Bertram Merling

Bertram Merling is the Loss Control Coordinator for the Hereford Insurance Company.

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