There are many things to love about winter, whether it's outdoor activities or the natural beauty of a snow-covered vista, but driving in the winter can be far from lovable.
In many areas of the country, winter weather can change in a heartbeat as roads and highways go from dry and safe to icy and treacherous. It can be challenging for even the most skillful driver, and even more so if you're an older adult whose driving skills have inevitably changed with age.
But driving – in any kind of weather - is a necessity for older adults who rely on their vehicles to remain independent and able to function in everyday life. The luxury of staying home when the weather turns bad isn't always an option for some seniors.
Here are some driving safety tips to keep you and your older loved ones out of harm's way on the roads this winter.
1. Make sure your vehicle is in good shape
The condition your car is in can have a major effect on your driving experience, especially in the winter when you'll be calling on your wipers, defroster, breaks, heater, and headlights to meet the challenges of bad weather. Some other points to remember for driving safety: cold air makes your tires contract and lose air and colder temperatures can cause your battery to lose its charge, while your engine may benefit in winter from oil that has thinner viscosity.
2. Always have emergency supplies
If you get stuck or your car breaks down in cold weather, it's important to have emergency supplies available such as blankets and bottled water. Road flares and non-perishable snacks should also be included as part of your driving safety plan.
3. Plan ahead
It’s best to avoid rush-hour traffic whenever possible, but you'll also want to stay on main roads if you can. Backroads and other shortcuts may pose difficult driving conditions because those routes are often the last to be plowed or maintained. Pre-plan your travel route and get the latest information on traffic and road conditions to ensure your driving safety.
4. Accelerate and decelerate slowly
Accelerating slowly is the best strategy for regaining traction and avoiding skids on slippery roads. It’s also best to give yourself plenty of time to slow down for stoplights and stop signs. You should always stop gently to avoid skidding and ease off of the brakes if your wheels start to lock up.
5. Watch your speed
Everything takes longer when roads are covered in snow or ice, making it crucial to drive slower than you normally would. Whether it's accelerating, turning or stopping, it doesn't happen as smoothly and as quickly as it does on dry pavement. It's also important to proceed down hills as slowly as possible in icy conditions.
6. Keep a safe distance
You should keep the recommended three to four seconds between you and the car ahead in normal, dry conditions. But with wintry road conditions, the American Automobile Association (AAA) recommends increasing that distance to eight to 10 seconds away.
7. Know your surroundings
Bridges, overpasses, and shaded areas often freeze first and remain icy longer than normal roadways. Also, a road that's completely snow-covered provides more traction than one that is in the process of melting.
8. Keep your cell phone with you
Never leave home without your cell phone. If you don't have a phone, make sure to let a loved one know where you're going, when you expect to arrive there, and when you plan on returning home. Check in with them again once you’re safely home.
9. Monitor your health
It’s never a good idea to drive while you're fatigued or you're not feeling well, especially when conditions are less than ideal. Make sure to have your eyes regularly checked so that you can correct any vision problems you may have that may be affecting your driving.
Driving may be one of the only transportation options for many people, despite winter hazards. Luckily, there are a number of precautions you can take to help you stay safe while driving in the snow and ice.