Winter Driving Tips

1. Know your route and stay updated on all weather conditions. The Web can be great source of current weather information. Log on to your states Department of Transportation website to get your local road-condition updates and consult them every few hours while you’re on the road. In Iowa, dial 5-1-1 or 1-800-288-1047, or log on to

2. Pack and replenish water and food supplies. When the weather is chilly, dehydration might seem unlikely, but according to a study by the Mayo Clinic, as little as a 1-2 percent loss of body weight can lead to fatigue and reduced alertness, both of which can be deadly when you are driving in icy conditions.  An average person should consume five to six 16-ounce bottles of water per day.  When traveling, please pack enough for you and your travel companions.  Keep the water with you in the passenger compartment, as they might freeze in the trunk. Your body needs more nourishment in cold weather than it does on a balmy summer day. Avoid candy bars and other quick-sugar-release snacks. Sandwiches, fruit or a health bars are much better choices. Carry a day’s worth of high-energy food and water in a warm area of your vehicle in case you are stranded for a few hours.

3. Pack a winter travel safety kit. Include a cell phone, cell phone charger, an ice scraper and brush, cat litter (for use as a traction aid), blankets, a good flashlight, a candle, matches, a good book, a portable weather radio, spare batteries for radio and flash light, jumper cables, a tow rope, a small shovel and a can of lock deicer. (Never use hot water on glass or locks — it will refreeze and create a bigger problem.)

4. Keep your tires in good condition and properly inflated. Tire tread depth should be at least 1/8-inch, and good snow tires with lugs will outperform just about any all-weather tire on the market. Cold weather reduces tire pressure, so check and adjust frequently. On newer cars, the recommended pressure is most commonly listed on a sticker inside the driver’s door. If there is no sticker on the door, you can usually find the specs in the owner’s manual. Most passenger cars will recommend 32 to 35 psi in the tires when they’re cold. The reason you check them cold is that as tires roll along the road, friction between them and the road generates heat, increasing tire pressure. For the most consistent tire-pressure reading, make sure the car has been sitting overnight, or at least has been parked for a few hours. Do not inflate your tires to the pressure listed on the tire itself. That number is the maximum pressure the tire can hold, not the recommended pressure for the vehicle. Over-inflating your tires will give you a bouncy ride and an ill-handling car, while under-inflated tires can develop premature wear from increased friction. Either way, not having your tires at their recommended pressure will negatively affect tire wear and vehicle performance.

5.  Before leaving your driveway, scrape the ice and snow from all windows of the vehicle.   Don’t just scrap a small patch of snow and ice from your windshield and hope the rest will come off while driving down the road.  Remove ice and snow from all windows, including mirrors, headlights, brake lights, and license plate.  Try to remove ice and snow from your shoes before getting in your vehicle. As they melt, they create moisture build-up, causing windows to fog on the inside. And above all else, make sure you and your passengers are wearing your safety belts, both lap and shoulder straps before driving out of the driveway.

6. Restrict your use of cellular phones and radios while driving on ice or snow. Even if you have a hands-free model, you need to concentrate on driving, not on a telephone conversation. Beginning July 1, 2011, Iowa drivers may be cited if found in violation of Use of Electronic Communication Device While Driving.  From July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011, Iowa Officers will be issuing warnings for such violation. Pull over and park off the travel portion of the roadway to make or take any cellular calls.  Even though a radio can provide helpful traffic information updates, it can also be a distraction for some drivers. Driving is more a mental skill than a physical skill; keep your radio volume to a minimum.

7. Slow down. A good rule of thumb is to reduce speed by 50 percent in snowy conditions. Posted speed limits identify the maximum speed allowed in ideal weather conditions. Law enforcement agencies can write citations to motorists driving the posted speed limit if weather conditions warrant a slower speed. Be alert to the actions of other drivers. Blasting through snowdrifts may look cool on TV, but it is way too hard on your vehicle to be worth it. Equally important: Don’t go too slow. Your car needs momentum to keep moving through snow on grades. Lightly touch on the brakes. Even with anti-lock braking systems (ABS), apply light pressure to avoid locking the brakes and causing a skid. Pumping the brake pedal should be a smooth action, going from light to firm. “Tip toe to slow” is a good motto for winter drivers.

8. Stay alert, calm, and loose on the controls. Smooth operation is the key to keeping control in slippery situations. Nervousness can lead to a hard clench of the steering wheel, which can result in loss of control. Consciously loosen your grasp or stretch out your fingers from time to time to help prevent that white-knuckled grip. Keep both hands on the wheel and keep the wheel pointed where you want your car to go. While it may sound overly simple, it could help you in a skid.

9. Make sure other drivers see you.  Always drive with your lights on in poor weather conditions. At night, in fog and heavy snow conditions, low beams may be more effective than high beams. Anticipate cars coming from side streets and put extra distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you. If someone is too close behind you, don't speed up; slow down or let them go around you.

10. Know how to recover from skids. When braking on a slippery road, it’s all too easy to “lock up” your wheels by stepping on the brakes a little too hard. If you start to skid, steer the vehicle gently in the direction you want the front of your vehicle to go and don’t touch your brakes. Align your tires with the direction of your intended travel. As your vehicle turns back in the correct direction, you must then counter steer in time to stop the turning and stay on your desired path. If you do not do this promptly, the vehicle will continue to turn past your intended direction, and you may then skid in that direction. You may have to counter-steer more than once to get things under control.

11. Make frequent rest stops. Winter travel is much more fatiguing than summer cruising, so stop every hour or so get out and stretch. It takes only five minutes to significantly improve your level of alertness.

12. If you get stuck, stay in your vehicle. Stay warm and wait for assistance. Make sure that your exhaust pipe is clear of any obstructions, including snow and ice; if you don’t, carbon monoxide gas can build up inside the vehicle.


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