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Winter Driving Tips

Use extra caution on wintry roadways

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Thermometer reads below zero degrees, indicating poor weather conditions for drivers.

Driving on wet, icy, or snowy roads can be difficult, especially when you're in an unfamiliar vehicle, such as a church van or bus.

It’s important for you to be familiar with the vehicle you’re driving, especially if you drive it infrequently. Each vehicle handles differently, especially under winter weather conditions. If you’ll be driving a church vehicle during the winter, contact the church and ask if you can take the van out for a test drive during the next snow. This will hone your slick-weather driving ability—before you transport passengers.

Simple Driving Tips
  • Practice. If you’re not sure how the vehicle handles in snowy conditions, don’t practice on a main road. Instead, practice starting, stopping and turning in an empty lot in full daylight until you've sharpened your winter weather driving skills.
  • Know Your Brakes. A word of caution about braking: Know what kind of brakes your vehicle has and how to use them properly. In general, if you have anti-lock brakes, apply firm pressure. If you do not have anti-lock brakes, pump the brakes gently.
  • Increase Following Distance. As you may know, it's harder to control or stop your vehicle on a slick or snow-covered surface. When driving, sufficiently increase your following distance so you'll have plenty of time to stop for vehicles ahead of you. This is especially important with vans or buses, which require more stopping distance than cars.  
  • Stay Calm. If you find yourself in a skid, stay calm and ease your foot off the gas while carefully steering in the direction you want the front of your vehicle to go. This procedure, known as “steering into the skid,” will bring the back end of your car in line with the front.

Plan Ahead

Keep yourself and others safe by planning ahead before you venture out into bad weather.

  • Check the weather, road conditions, and traffic. Plan to leave early if necessary.
  • Don't rush! Allow plenty of time to get to your destination safely.
  • Familiarize yourself with directions and maps before you go, and let others know your route and anticipated arrival time.
  • Keep your gas tank close to full. If you get stuck in a traffic jam or in snow, you might need more fuel to get home or keep warm.
  • If road conditions are hazardous, avoid driving if possible. Wait until road and weather conditions improve before venturing out in your vehicle.
Stock Needed Supplies

Carry items in your vehicle to handle common winter driving tasks, such as cleaning off your windshield, as well as any emergency supplies you might need. Consider keeping the following items on hand:

  • Snow shovel and ice scraper
  • Abrasive material, like sand or kitty litter, in case your vehicle gets stuck in the snow
  • Jumper cables, flashlight, fire extinguisher and warning devices, such as flares and markers
  • Blankets for protection from the cold
  • A cell phone, water, and high-energy food, such as nuts or chocolate
  • A jack and inflated spare tire
  • A first-aid kit

Prepare for Emergencies

If you are stopped or stalled in wintry weather, follow these safety rules:

  • Activate your hazard lights and pull off the road as far as possible.
  • Stay with your vehicle and don't overexert yourself.
  • Warn oncoming traffic. Put bright markers on the antenna or windows and keep the interior dome light turned on. Set flares or reflective triangles.
  • To avoid asphyxiation from carbon monoxide poisoning, don't run the vehicle for long periods of time without ventilation. If you must run your vehicle in order to stay warm, clear the exhaust pipe of snow and run it only sporadically—just long enough to warm the car. When doing so, crack a window open to breathe fresh air. 
  • Don’t accept rides from strangers. If someone stops to help, talk through a crack in the window and ask that they telephone the police.

Make sure you're prepared for this winter's challenges, and share this information with others who drive people to and from ministry events. 

Adapted from “Checklist & Tips for Safe Winter Driving,” by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, www.nhtsa.gov. Also contains information from the AAA Chicago Motor Club.