How to Prevent Accidents on Icy Roads

Three Parts:Driving on Icy RoadwaysPreparing Your Car for Winter TravelStaying Safe If an Accident Occurs

Winter can be a beautiful time of year, but it can also be very dangerous for travel. Roads that simply appear wet or coated in snow can conceal a layer of ice that could cause you to lose control of your vehicle. If you live in a region prone to cold weather and icy driving conditions, it's imperative that you learn how to drive safely and prepare yourself in case of an accident.

Part 1
Driving on Icy Roadways

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    Avoid any unnecessary driving. Just because you can drive safely on icy roads, it doesn't mean other drivers can. Any time you venture out on the road when driving conditions are bad, you increase the chances of getting into an accident. If you don't really need to go out, put off driving until the roads have been salted and stay indoors.[1]
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    Check road conditions before you drive. The best way to prevent an accident is by planning ahead. Knowing whether the roads will be icy can help you anticipate hazardous driving conditions or assess whether you really need to be out on the road.[2]
    • Your local Department of Transportation (DOT) should offer information on road conditions in your area.
    • You can find this information on the DOT website in the US or by searching online.
    • If conditions are hazardous, consider postponing your trip.
    • Remember that the weather can change rapidly in areas that are well above sea level. Double check weather conditions and road closure notifications if you intend to travel in high elevation areas, especially in winter.
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    Keep your headlights on. When driving in any hazardous conditions, it's imperative that you increase your visibility as much as possible so that other drivers can see you. Use dome lights at night to make your vehicle even more visible.[3] Even if it's still light out, you may want to turn your headlights on so that your vehicle can be seen from a greater distance.
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    Drive slowly. It may sound obvious, but driving at high speeds puts you at a greater risk when the roads are icy. At the very least you should not exceed the posted speed limit.[4] However, even that may be too high a speed to safely drive.
    • Never accelerate or decelerate rapidly. Apply the gas slowly to speed up and apply the brake pedal gently to slow down, giving yourself plenty of extra time and space to come to a complete stop.[5]
    • Applying too much pressure on the gas pedal will only cause your tires to spin. This can cause you to lose control of the vehicle or slide downhill if you're traveling on an incline.
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    Be a defensive driver. In addition to watching your speed, you'll need to watch other drivers on the road. You may be a cautious and prepared driver, but another driver's carelessness could result in property damage, serious injury, or even death. Be careful whenever you drive around other vehicles or pedestrians, and give yourself enough time to slow down before reaching stop signs and intersections.
    • Remember that it takes longer to stop on an icy surface.[6]
    • Don't follow other vehicles too closely.[7] While it's generally recommended that you leave at least one vehicle length between you and the car in front of you, on icy roads you should at least double that distance.[8]
    • Stay as far away as you can from any vehicle whose driver is going too fast or is in danger of losing control of the vehicle. Slow down or move over to the side of the road so that you will not be hit if the other driver loses control and skids out.
    • Exercise caution when approaching and crossing intersections. Just because you slowed down to a stop on time without losing control, there's no guarantee that other drivers will be able to do so.
    • Be extra cautious when approaching pedestrians and crosswalks. Sliding into another car can damage the vehicle, but sliding into a pedestrian could be fatal.
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    Turn into a slide. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your vehicle may slide on a patch of ice. This is particularly common in areas that are prone to melting and refreezing, resulting in black ice. If this happens, you'll need to remain calm and resist the urges that might come naturally to you when your car slides.[9]
    • Try not to panic. Resist the urge to slam on the brakes, as this will only cause your vehicle to slide out more.
    • Don't turn the steering wheel where you want to end up. Instead, take your foot off the gas pedal and turn your steering wheel in the direction your vehicle is sliding.
    • If you have anti-lock brakes, apply gentle but steady pressure to the brakes (but don't "slam" on the pedal). If you do not have anti-lock brakes, pump the brake pedal slowly and gently so that your brakes do not lock and make the skid worse.
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    Stay sober and alert. Impaired and fatigued driving are tremendously dangerous under normal road conditions, but on an icy road impaired/fatigued driving dramatically increases the risk of an accident.[10] Never drive unless you're sober and wakeful enough to get home safely.
    • Have a designated driver if you or anyone else with you will be drinking alcohol. Make sure your driver is sober and knows how to drive in winter conditions.
    • If you're too tired to drive, get off the road to a safe place.
    • Once you've parked your vehicle in a safe spot, take a 15 to 20 minute nap. This will help you feel refreshed and more alert.[11]
    • Drink a caffeinated beverage like coffee or tea to help keep you awake. If you need to nap, drink a caffeinated beverage immediately before napping so that you will feel the effects when you wake up.
    • If you have another driver in the vehicle with you, consider asking that individual to take over driving duties for you (if it's safe for that person to do so).
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    Let snow plows drive ahead of you. You may get impatient being stuck behind a snow plow or salter truck, but these vehicles will make the road safer for you. Rather than trying to pass these trucks, stay behind them or pull over for a few minutes to let the salt or sand do its work on the icy pavement.[12]
    • Remember that passing any vehicle on icy roads may be hazardous.
    • In the case of snow plows, the road will be unsalted or unsanded in front of the truck. You're much safer driving behind them where they've cleared snow and laid down salt or sand.
    • Give plows and maintenance trucks room. Leave at least 200 feet between the truck's back bumper and the front of your vehicle.[13]

Part 2
Preparing Your Car for Winter Travel

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    Keep your gas and washer fluid tanks full. Before you travel, you should always ensure that your vehicle has enough gas and windshield washer fluid to get you safely to your destination. Insufficient gas could cause you to get stranded, and running out of windshield washer fluid can dramatically reduce your visibility on the road.[14]
    • Stop at a gas station whenever possible if you're running low on gas or washer fluid.
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    Make sure your tires are properly inflated. You may not realize it, but having insufficiently-inflated tires could cause you to lose control of your vehicle on icy roads. Check your air pressure before you drive to ensure that your tires can properly handle the road.[15]
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    Pack some emergency supplies. If you live in an area that's prone to icy road conditions, it may be helpful to keep some supplies stored in your vehicle. That way, if you ever get stranded somewhere, you know that you'll be prepared.[16] A good emergency kit should include the following:
    • at least two blankets and/or sleeping bags
    • extra clothing, including a winter hat, gloves, a parka, and warm boots
    • bottled drinking water
    • high-calorie food that won't go bad, such as candy or packaged nuts (if you're not allergic)
    • flares and reflectors
    • a flashlight and extra batteries
    • booster cables
    • a snow shovel and scraper
    • a bag of sand, cat litter, or pieces of carpet for tire traction
    • extra windshield fluid and antifreeze
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    Brush off all the snow and ice from your car. Before you begin driving, you should always ensure that your vehicle is free from snow and ice. Even if you can see well enough to drive while your vehicle is parked, snow and ice may come loose and create a hazard for you or other drivers while you're in motion.[17]
    • Don't just clear off the windows. Snow on the hood can blow onto your windshield and reduce your visibility, while snow on the roof can blow back onto other drivers' windshields.
    • Ice that seems caked to your vehicle could come loose and fly onto another driver's windshield on the road. This can cause accidents or property damage.
    • Brush away as much snow as you can from every surface of your vehicle and try to gently chip away at any loose ice pieces with the scraper side of your snow brush or an ice scraper.
    • Make sure your headlights, taillights, fog lights, and turn signals are all clear of snow and visible to other drivers.
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    Carry snow chains and use them when necessary. Depending on where you live, you may be required to use snow chains during part of the year. Sometimes this is even mandated by law.[18] If you live in or are traveling through an area where snow chains are necessary, keep them in your vehicle and know when and how to use them.[19] Before you apply snow chains, make sure your vehicle is at a complete stop, then put the parking brake on. This will ensure that your vehicle doesn't move while you apply the chains.
    • Untangle the chains so they form a web shape. Then check your owner's manual to determine whether the chains should go on your front or rear tires.
    • If your vehicle has front-wheel drive, put the chains on your front tires. If you have rear-wheel drive, put them on the back tires.
    • Start from the top of each tire and work the chains down to the ground. You won't be able to cover the portion of your tires touching pavement, but you should get the chains down as close as possible to the road.
    • Once both tires have as much of the tires covered as the road allows, disengage the parking brake and pull forward a few feet. Then re-apply the parking brake and cover the remaining portion of each tire with the chains.
    • Use a closer link to tighten the chains. Then drive about 50 to 100 feet, pull over, re-apply the parking brake, and re-tighten the chains, as they will have some initial slack after they've spread across the tires.

Part 3
Staying Safe If an Accident Occurs

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    Call for assistance. If anyone is injured or if an emergency arises, call for emergency services. In the United States, this phone number will always be 911. If everyone is safe and your car is stuck in the snow or in a ditch, call for a tow truck. You can find tow truck operators near you by searching online (if you have a smartphone), or by calling someone with access to the internet to look for you.[20]
    • If you have roadside assistance, call that number and the dispatcher will arrange for a tow truck to come get you.
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    Remain in your vehicle. If you're ever stranded or in an accident, you should always stay inside your vehicle. Leaving your vehicle leaves you susceptible to hypothermia, inclement weather, and getting hit by other vehicles on the road. You may also get lost and have a hard time finding your vehicle again. Getting out of your vehicle also increases the chances of overexerting yourself. You may end up injuring yourself, having a heart attack, or simply getting wet and cold, which could lead to hypothermia.[21]
    • Put your four-way hazard lights on and keep your headlights on so other drivers can see you. You can also leave the dome light on (if it's dark out), as this increases visibility without significantly draining your battery.
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    Stay warm. Your number one priority when you're stranded should be to stay warm. If you've contacted a tow truck or emergency services, you should only have a short wait. However, depending on where you are and how busy those services are, you may have to keep warm for a while.[22]
    • Clear snow away from the radiator and the exhaust pipe of your vehicle. This will reduce the risk of your engine overheating or your vehicle filling with carbon monoxide.
    • Only run the engine for 10-minute intervals to heat the vehicle. Once the vehicle warms up, turn the engine off after about 10 minutes so that you do not burn through all your fuel or overheat the engine.
    • Put on any extra clothing you have so you stay warm. If you're wearing loose clothing, try to tighten it as much as possible.
    • Change positions frequently and move your arms and legs to keep your blood circulating. Rub your hands together or stuff them in your armpits to keep your fingers warm, and periodically remove your shoes to rub your feet.

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Categories: Injury and Accidents