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Be Safe In Your Winter Driving

Winter has come early to Wisconsin.  It's a good time to brush up on safe winter driving.  As the snow flies, keep these tips in mind.

Vehicle Maintenance

Cold, snow and salt can be hard on your vehicle.  Breakdowns in winter can be life threatening.  Have your car serviced by a qualified mechanic for routine maintenance.  Make sure your vehicle is ready for the winter by having it checked for leaks, worn hoses, worn tires and battery life. 

It's always a good idea to check for safety recalls on your vehicle.  If you've moved since you bought your car or if you own a used car, you might not receive recall notices.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a Recall Look-Up Tool that will allow you to look up any recalls on your vehicle using the Vehicle Identification Number.  If you find you have a recall, contact your local dealership for service. 

Emergency Supplies

Keep supplies in your vehicle to deal with winter weather, including supplies you might need in an emergency.  Always keep the following items in your vehicle:

  •  Snow shovel and ice scraper;
  •  Abrasive material such as cat litter or sand to use in case you get stuck;
  • Jumper cables, flashlight, hand and feet warmers, flares and emergency markers;
  • Blankets; A cell phone with charger, water, food and medicine (especially on longer trips or when traveling in remote or lightly populated areas). 

Drive Defensively and Sober

Once you're on the road in Winter, keep safe by using smart winter driving skills:

  •  Do not text while driving and avoid anything that might distract you while behind the wheel;
  •  Obey all posted speed limits and drive slower when necessary based on visibility, the weather and road conditions;
  •  Don't tailgate other drivers.  Tailgating on slippery roads can injure you and others.  Leave more following distance when conditions are slick, or visibility is bad;

Drive sober.  Alcohol and drugs impair perception, judgment, motor skills, and memory.  All skills critical for safe driving.  If you've had too much to drink, call a friend or family member, get a cab or take public transportation;

Know whether your vehicle has anti-lock brakes and learn how to use them properly.  If you have anti-lock brakes, apply firm, continuous pressure to the brake pedal.  If you don't have anti-lock brakes, you may need to pump your brakes if you feel your wheels locking up while stopping.

Drive Carefully Around Snowplows

Snowplow drivers have a tough job.  They work long hours keeping the roads clear in the winter.  Make their job easier and safer -- and your travel safer -- by driving carefully when you encounter a snowplow:   

  • When encountering a snowplow, don't crowd, tailgate or travel beside them. Snowplows travel slowly, make wide turns, stop often, overlap lanes, and exit the road frequently.
  •  The road behind a snowplow is safer to drive on. If you find yourself behind a snowplow in snowy weather, be patient and stay a safe distance behind it.
  • When you are driving behind a snowplow, don’t follow it too closely. A snowplow operator’s field-of-vision is limited; if you can't see the mirrors, the driver can't see you. Also, materials used to de-ice the road could hit your vehicle

Snowplows often throw up a cloud of snow that can reduce your visibility to zero in less time than you can react. Never drive into a snow cloud – it can conceal vehicles or hazards.

What if you Run into Trouble in Bad Weather?

If you get stopped or stalled in bad weather:

  •  Stay with your vehicle and don't overexert yourself;
  • Put bright markers on the antenna or windows;

To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning or asphyxiation, don't run your car for long periods of time with the windows up or in an enclosed space.  If you must run your vehicle, clear the exhaust pipe of any snow, running it only occasionally, long enough to stay warm. 

Remember that the weather doesn't cause accidents, drivers not driving carefully enough in bad weather cause accidents.  If the roads are slick or visibility is bad, slow down and drive defensively.  It's the best winter driving strategy of all.  

Attorney Polich is an experienced trial lawyer at Lawton & Cates.  He has been handling personal injury cases on behalf of traffic crash victims for over 20 years. 

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