How to Protect Yourself From Winter Weather Accidents
Weather-related accidents are all too common in Wisconsin over the winter months. The presence of ice and/or snow on the roads or poor visibility caused by winter storms can result in motor vehicle accidents throughout the winter months. How should you be preparing yourself and your vehicle for winter? What are some ways you can avoid winter car accidents? How can you protect yourself after an accident has already occurred?
Three P’s of Winter Accidents
All too often, our law firm sees the tragic results of winter driving accidents, most of which could have been avoided had safe driving practices been followed. During inclement winter weather, consider either canceling or postponing your trip until travel conditions improve. If you absolutely must travel, here are some safe travel tips to follow to increase your chances of reaching your destination safely. There are three steps to take to keep you and your family safe and healthy on winter roads. As defined by OSHA, the three “P’s” of safe winter driving include Preparedness, Protection, and Prevention.
Regardless of the length of your trip, you should adequately prepare yourself and your vehicle for all winter trips. Exercising proper preparedness can help ensure your trip is safe and allow you to respond better in the case that an accident does happen. Follow these steps to prepare yourself and your car for a winter trip.
- Perform winter maintenance on your car. Your car’s battery should have enough cold cranking amps available to start in the winter. Make sure to use winter tires with adequate tread, replace your wipers with winter versions at the beginning of the cold season, use winter windshield washer solution, and check antifreeze levels. In addition, clear all windows and lights before you begin driving.
- Have an emergency kit on hand. A winter emergency kit should include jumper cables, a shovel and snowbrush, traction material such as gravel or cat litter, warning flares, blankets, food and water.
- Anticipate weather delays. Plan for the additional time it will take for you to reach your destination. You cannot leave at the same time you would normally leave if the road and weather conditions are good.
- Practice driving in hazardous conditions. Practice driving in snow, ice, and other dangerous conditions during the daytime and in a large area such as a parking lot.
- Make sure your cell phone is fully charged in the event you need to call someone in an emergency. Although you should make it a point to not talk on your cell phone while driving at any time, this is all the more important when driving during periods of bad weather, where your full focus needs to be on the road and your surroundings.
- Before starting out to drive, clear all snow and/or ice from your vehicle’s windows, front and rear lights, roof and hood. If the hood is not fully cleared, snow and/or ice can fly up onto the windshield while driving, causing you to lose visibility. Snow and/or ice on the roof of your vehicle can fly off and strike another vehicle traveling behind you, and either obstruct that operator’s visibility or damage that vehicle.
- Try to take highways and main roads to reach your destination as opposed to back roads or rural routes. Back roads or rural routes are typically not plowed or salted as quickly as highways and main roads, and help may not be as readily available in the event you slide off of the road or encounter mechanical problems.
- Make sure you let someone know about your need to head out into the bad weather, and also let them know your destination and anticipated arrival time.
Once you begin driving, take these precautions to ensure you and your loved ones will be safe while traveling.
- Use seatbelts and car seats for all passengers in your vehicle.
- Do not place child car seats near airbags or in the front seat.
- Dress for the weather outside. In the event of a crash or slide-off, you may need to exit your vehicle, or you may have to shut your engine off, where you will be sitting in a vehicle without heat.
In the winter, poor road conditions can exacerbate poor driving decisions and cause an undue amount of accidents. Practice defensive driving in order to ensure you do not become involved in a winter-related accident.
- Slow down and take your time. Most winter crashes and slide-offs are caused by drivers going too fast for the existing conditions. Remember, posted speed limits apply to ideal travel conditions. Did you know that Wisconsin law requires operators to drive at an appropriate reduced speed (a speed less than the posted speed limit) when special hazard exists by reason of weather or highway conditions? This applies equally to four-wheel drive and all-wheel-drive vehicles. Four-wheel or all-wheel drive does not make you invincible to losing control on slippery roads. All vehicles require additional time and distance to stop in adverse conditions. Driving too fast for conditions prevents you from having the time you need to react and avoid losing control or crashing.
- Increase the distance between your vehicle and the vehicle you are following. It takes longer to stop when the roads are slippery, even if your vehicle is equipped with anti-lock-brakes.
- If your vehicle does not have automatic head lights, make sure that you turn on your vehicle’s low-beam headlight, even if driving during daylight conditions. This helps you to see what is up ahead of you, and helps other drivers to see you. Did you know that Wisconsin law requires drivers to turn on their vehicle’s low-beam headlights any time that weather or other conditions make it difficult to see objects 500 feet ahead?
- Do not brake suddenly or steer abruptly to the left or right. Sudden braking or steering can cause you to lose control of your vehicle. Brake and steer gradually.
- Do not use cruise control in wintry weather. If you start to slide, the delay it may take to disengage the cruise control may be the difference between being able to regain control or losing control and crashing.
- Be especially cautious when driving over bridges or on overpasses, as they tend to freeze before roads.
- When possible, drive in the tire tracks of other vehicles. There will usually be more traction in these areas.
- Be careful when changing lanes. The area between lanes may have a buildup of ice and/or snow. If you must change lanes, do so gradually while holding the steering wheel firmly. If you start to skid or slide, take your foot off of the accelerator until traction is restored and you can complete your lane change.
- Watch for pedestrians, parked cars, and other obstacles along the side of the road that may be more difficult to see in winter weather conditions.
- If you do become involved in a stall or accident, stay with your vehicle. Run the engine only enough to stay warm, ensuring that you clear snow from the tailpipe regularly to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Use flares or road cones to draw attention to your vehicle.
Nobody plans to become involved in a winter accident. However, planning can help you prevent accidents, and proper winter driving techniques and protective measures can ensure you and your family stay safe. In the case that you experience a winter accident, knowing how to stay safe while you await help is crucial. If you or a loved one receives injuries consider speaking with a car accident or Milwaukee personal injury attorney in your area.