The facts about driving on snowy roads

Neil Bartlett
Driving during the winter is fraught with the potential for traffic accidents and deaths. Traffic conditions can change rapidly -- from one mile to the next, and from one minute to the next.
Weather-related driving conditions are a factor in more than 1.5 million car crashes every year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Drivers must pay more attention and slow down in the snow.
If it’s been several months since the roads in your area have been snow-covered and slick, chances are  you’ve forgotten how to drive in snow and ice. This includes driving below the speed limit, slowing down at intersections, and ensuring you can see through your windshield and windows.
Keep these facts in mind to stay safe on snowy roads -- and to keep your auto insurance premiums from going up.
The first snowfall
According to 2005 research from the American Public Health Association, the first snowy day of the season is much more dangerous for drivers than other snowy days. Over a 25-year period, deadly crashes were 14 percent more likely on the first snowy day of the season compared with other snowy days. It takes us a few days to regain our winter-driving bearings.
Older drivers during the first snowfall
The American Public Health Association research shows that drivers over age 65 are particularly prone to drive poorly during a first snowfall.
Older men and pickup trucks
Another study of more than 23,000 Indiana drivers found men 45 and older are  five times more likely to be severely injured or killed when driving on snowy and icy road surfaces compared with driving on wet surfaces.
The study, from Purdue University’s Center for Road Safety, also found that men 45 and older driving pickups were 81 percent more likely to be injured on snowy and icy surfaces than those of the same age group who were driving other types of vehicles. The study's authors said these drivers may be overconfident or have a false sense of safety in their trucks.
Tips for winter driving
The National Weather Service calls winter storms the “deceptive killers.” Here are some tips from the Car Care Council that can help prevent you from becoming a traffic statistic:
 
  • Cold weather is tough on your vehicle’s battery. Make sure to have the battery  and charging system checked.
  • Flush and clean the cooling system every two years.
  • Make sure your heaters, defrosters and wipers are working as they should. Replace wiper blades twice a year.
  • Have your tires' tread depth and pressure checked.
  • Change the oil and filter at recommended intervals. Dirty oil can spell trouble in winter. Ask your mechanic whether your vehicle should use a “winter weight” oil. Have your fuel, air and transmission checked, too.
  • Have the brakes checked. With the onset of snow, ice and sleet, faulty brakes are especially hazardous in winter.
  • Check the exhaust system for carbon monoxide leaks, which can be especially dangerous during cold weather when car windows are closed.
  • Check to see that exterior and interior lights work correctly and that the headlights are properly aimed.

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