Slip-sliding away: Tips for safe driving

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— Believe it or not, winter will soon be here.

Winter driving on Colorado roads and highways can be a pleasant adventure or it can be frustrating and hazardous. Not only do we have snow and ice to deal with, but there are fewer hours of daylight as well. Take a tip from one of Steamboat's finest and make the transition between the seasons easier by preparing your vehicle for what is to come.

"Any small problems your car had in good weather will be bigger problems in bad weather," warns Steamboat Springs Assistant Police Chief Art Fiebing.

It's a good time to treat your vehicle to an overall tune-up that includes a check of your battery, brakes, antifreeze and cooling system, windshield wipers and fluid, as well as heater and defroster.

You might consider installing an engine block heater to help your car start on cold mornings. One way to extend the life of your battery is to make sure the heater, wipers, radio and headlights are turned off before starting the engine.

Four good snow tires are the single-best thing you can purchase. Snow tires will help you get started on slick surfaces and increase traction when braking and turning. But don't let the better handling of a front-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicle with decent tires cause you to drive faster than you should.

"A four-wheel drive vehicle does not stop faster. Traveling too fast for conditions is the No. 1 cause of winter driving accidents," Fiebing said. "Sometimes 5 mph is the appropriate speed."

Motorists need to allow plenty of distance between vehicles in slippery conditions because stopping distances can triple.

Before you begin driving, take a few minutes to clear snow and ice from your entire vehicle, including side mirrors, hood, roof, head- and taillights and windshield wipers. This will improve visibility and prevent snow from your car from sliding or blowing into your line of vision or that of other motorists. Removing the camouflage of snow also makes your vehicle more visible to other motorists.

Don't get lulled into a false sense of security; do everything slowly and gently. Accelerate slowly, brake gently and turn gently. Don't overdrive your visibility. No matter how fast you can drive your vehicle in snow, that ability has no correlation to how fast you can stop or how well you can maneuver. Be gentle and deliberate at the controls. And, of course, always, always buckle up.

We may not be able to control Mother Nature, but we can prepare our vehicles and use caution and common sense to ensure a safe winter on the roadways. Be prepared. Be alert. Be safe. Now, let it snow!

Bonnie Boylan is public relations coordinator at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

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