Living in the Valley, driving in the snow isn’t something we typically have to worry about. However, not all of Arizona is snow free, and many Phoenicians love to head North and indulge in snow days or travel to snowy areas for the holidays. Snowfall can be very beautiful and alluring, but it can also make your holiday travels much more dangerous. Before you and your family take off to enjoy the cold and snow it is important that you are properly prepared to handle the drifted, snowy, or icy road conditions. Planning ahead, prepping your car and using caution and good judgement while you drive will help ensure that you arrive to all of your winter destinations safely.
Prepping your car for winter travel
The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) recommends that you properly prepare your car before embarking on any winter trips. If you can, have your car looked over by a trusted mechanic to make sure that the battery, ignition and exhaust systems, thermostat, defroster, heater and brakes are all in good working condition. You should also check to be sure that the antifreeze in your cars radiator can withstand freezing temperatures. Your motor oil should also be changed to a winter grade. All of this will help ensure that your engine runs properly and wont freeze up and seize while you are traveling in cooler temperatures.
A dirty windshield makes it very difficult to see the road and anything on it when it is snowing and will also increase the glare from oncoming headlights. For this reason, you should install new wiper blades and make sure your windshield solution is freeze resistant.
In the winter, it gets darker sooner, this coupled with weather that obscures vision can make driving more treacherous. You want to make sure that you are visible to other drivers. So another thing you will want to have checked out are your vehicles lights. Make sure that all of your headlights, taillights, turn signals, and break lights are all working well and can be seen in low visibility.
Finally, if your car is not equipped with all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive tires, you may want to invest in snow tires. Snow tires will give you extra traction on slick, snowy roads. It is also wise to keep a set of chains in your car for when you encounter especially poor road conditions. In Arizona studded tires are permitted on the highways from Oct. 1 to May 1.
Planning ahead in case of emergency
If you are cautious and use good judgement when driving, and have your car looked over like we mentioned above, you should have no issues on the road. However, there is always a chance that something could happen and you find yourself stranded in the cold winter weather. You should plan your route ahead of time and make sure that you notify someone of your route, destination and projected arrival time. Try to keep your fuel tank at least three-quarters full. Running out of gas can be extremely dangerous during winter conditions. Due to the extreme cold and elements of winter weather, ADOT recommends that you keep your cell phone charged and have a kit of cold weather necessities in the vehicle to help you stay safe and warm until help arrives.
Items you may want to include in your kit are:
• Gloves, scarves, caps and extra socks
• Necessary prescribed medication(s) and pain relievers
• First-aid kit
• Flashlight with extra batteries
• Safety flares
• Small bag of sand (or kitty litter) for wheel traction
• Travel tool kit and battery cables
• Small folding shovel for snow removal
• Road Map
Driving in winter weather safely
Now your car is fully prepared and you are ready to get on the road. It is important that you don’t rely too heavily on your prepped vehicle. The best thing you can do to ensure your safety on icy or snowy roads is to use good judgement, and remain cautious.
Here is a list of things that you can do to make sure you are being a safe winter driver:
Slow your speed and increase your distance between other vehicles
Keep in mind that speed limits are set based on perfect road conditions, and winter weather conditions make the roads more slippery than normal. So reduce your speed so that you have more control over your vehicle and give you more time to react on slippery roads.
Snow and ice on the roads gives you less traction which makes your vehicle take longer to slow down and come to a stop. For this reason, it is important that you give yourself more distance between other cars. ADOT tells drivers to use the “3-6 second” rule to determine if you have enough cushion between you and the vehicle you are following under normal road conditions. (When a car ahead of you passes a certain point on the road, like a mile marker or over-pass, count “one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three, one-thousand-four.” If you pass the same point before you finish counting you are following too closely.) In winter weather, it is recommended to double the spacing.
Avoid sharp tugs at the steering wheel and sudden breaking and turning
Take it easy when you are braking, accelerating and steering. Sharp and sudden tugs at the wheel or slamming on the brakes could very well result in a slide and/or accident.
Watch the road and other drivers and maintain visibility
Accidents happen much more suddenly in icy, snowy conditions. Pay attention to what is going on around you. If another driver begins to lose control or slide you will be able to slow down and adjust, giving the other driver time to regain control, and avoid an accident.
You will also want to make sure that nothing is impairing your vision. Clear all snow and ice from your headlights, wiper blades, windshield, and windows. Make sure your windshield glass is always clean as dirty windshields will increase glare from on-coming headlights. High-beams reflect snow, rain, and fog as it is falling which makes it harder to see while driving – use your low-beam lights for the best visibility. Lights coming from inside your vehicle also make it harder to see the road so dim your dashboard lights and keep any other interior lights off.
Keep calm and focused if you feel your car begin to drift or slide. Don’t panic! Remember to turn into the direction of the slide to straighten out your vehicle. Avoid any sudden or jerking motions as these can cause you to overcorrect and lose further control of the vehicle.
Don’t let being under prepared for winter weather cause you any stress this holiday season. Use these tips so that you can arrive confidently and safely to all of your winter destinations. Happy travels!