Winter is almost over, but that’s no excuse for letting your driving skills slide. On the contrary, given the frequently unpredictable weather in this area, it’s important to drive defensively and stock your vehicle with the appropriate safety equipment.
“This time of year can be particularly problematic because of the wide range of temperatures and precipitation freezing on the roadways,” said Sgt. Scott Scarff of the Gaithersburg Police Department’s traffic unit. “You should always drive with caution when there’s precipitation because the road surface can be colder than the air.”
According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), you should keep several things in your vehicle when there is even a chance that inclement weather could send you into a ditch — or worse. At a minimum, make sure you have:
- a flashlight with fresh batteries;
- booster cables;
- flares or reflective triangles;
- a small bag of abrasive material, such as sand or cat litter, to help get your car unstuck;
- a cloth or a roll of paper towels;
- a small shovel;
- a cell phone;
- a can of de-icer; and
- an ice scraper.
Scarff emphasized the importance of having a way to alert other drivers if you get stuck on the side of the road.
“People should always have flares or warning triangles,” he said. “That’s very important all year long, not just in the winter.”
To help prevent an accident in the first place when visibility is poor, increase your following distance, look farther ahead than usual, and pay special attention to bridges, on-ramps and other places where ice tends to accumulate.
If your best efforts fail and you find yourself beginning to skid, AAA and Scarff suggest easing up on the accelerator, keeping a firm grip on the wheel, and steering in the direction you want the front of the vehicle to go. That’s easier said than done in the heat of the moment, so think about how you would react beforehand.
Also, don’t assume you can relax if you have an SUV.
“I think people have gotten a false sense of security with four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive vehicles,” Scarff said. He said four- and all-wheel drive systems are designed to get a vehicle moving more easily and provide greater control while driving, but they do not increase stopping power.
With a little preparation and common-sense defensive driving habits, travel during the shoulder season can be just as safe as on a sunny day in June.
Proper vehicle maintenance is important. The American Automobile Association (AAA) suggests performing the following checks regularly with all vehicles:
- Recharge or replace weak batteries.
- Check fluid levels, battery posts, voltage regulator and alternator.
Windshield Wipers and Washers:
- Wiper blades should be replaced at least every six months.
- Also replace wiper blades if they are cracked or do not clear the windshield properly.
- Fill washer reservoir with high quality washer solution.
- Check for cracked lenses and proper operation.
- Check for smooth and consistent stopping.
- Replace tires if needed.
- Inflate them properly to improve vehicle control and gas mileage.
- Make sure they have sufficient tread, which allows water to escape and helps prevent hydroplaning.
- Check radiator hoses for cracks and leaks.
- Check fan belts for cracks and wear.
- Test defroster, heater and rear window defogger for proper operation.