As temperatures fall and most of the country begins making preparations for bad weather, it’s a good idea to remind ourselves of the winter rules of the road. During the winter months, the most courteous thing you can do for your fellow motorists is maintain the status quo. It seems like everyone has a few extra ounces of patience when road conditions deteriorate, so avoiding mistakes that cause accidents is about all we can expect of each other. For this reason, these few points of etiquette will read more like a list of safe driving practices. But that’s intentional – getting everyone home safely is the name of the game.
1. Know Your Limits
The fastest way to get yourself and those around you into a dangerous situation is to, well, go too fast for road conditions. Understand your car’s limits as well as your own, and make good decisions based on your situation. Driving a 4-wheel drive SUV does not make you invincible, so don’t go barreling down the road if the roads are in rough shape.
2. Don’t Be a Chicken, Either
Just as driving a 4-wheel drive automobile does not make you invincible, driving a small sedan doesn’t mean you are completely helpless. Take stock of the road conditions, and don’t treat every occurrence of precipitation like it’s the storm of the century. If the roads are in good enough shape for you to drive at a reasonable pace, don’t clog up the roads at 15 miles per hour.
3. Get Out of the Way
Don’t flounder in the way of other, more capable drivers or of the crews working to clean up the roads; you know the drill. If you aren’t confident in a bad situation, don’t force everyone else to wait for you. Making a safe, conservative decision is a good idea, but if you’re in line to order at a burger joint and you can’t decide what you want, you move aside and let the next guy order, right? It’s the same idea here. If you are having trouble and traffic is building up behind you, find a safe place to pull over, let everyone pass, and then continue on your way.
4. Respect Your Fellow Drivers’ Need for Extra Space
Are you normally an assertive driver who tends to close the gap between you and the car ahead of you whenever possible? If the weather turns sour, do everyone a favor and leave that gap alone. In fact, go ahead and add to it. You’ll make the car in front of you more comfortable and you’ll give yourself enough time to react to any curveballs they (or Mother Nature) might throw at you.
5. Check Your Tires in November
All-season tires have improved to the point that snow tires, while still very useful, aren’t imperative like they used to be. If you have the means to put four snow tires on your vehicle, by all means, please do. If you don’t, at least make sure your all-season tires have plenty of tread on them. Bald tires are bad in rain; in the snow and ice, they are worse than useless. Don’t wait for the first winter storm to find out how your tires are going to perform for you. This advice can be expanded to car maintenance in general. Keeping your car in good working order will help keep you out of trouble and on your fellow motorists’ collective good side.
6. For Goodness Sake, Stay off Your Phone
You should never text and drive in the first place, but in winter weather, everything is amplified. The concentration required to successfully navigate adverse conditions is not easily mustered. I have never shied away from driving in bad weather, but I am always exhausted after I do. Breaking that constant concentration just long enough to check a text message can turn a morning commute into an insurance claim in no time flat.
7. CLEAN OFF YOUR CAR!
This is by far my biggest automotive pet peeve. If you have four inches of snow on your car, don’t expect a quick swipe of the windshield wipers to be sufficient to get you on the road. Between the decreased visibility that impairs your situational awareness and the makeshift blizzard the driver behind you will experience when that snow starts flying off your car, your selfishness puts everyone around you in danger. I could go on for another 800 words about this, but I like my blood pressure right where it is. Do everyone a favor and get up five minutes earlier so you can clean the snow and ice off your car.