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(Photo: NPS)

7 Painfully Obvious Tips on How to Not Drive like an Idiot This Winter

Because sometimes we all need a friendly reminder

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It’s winter. And that apparently means it’s time for everyone to crash their cars. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. By making better decisions, you can save yourself—and everyone around you—loads of time, money, and danger.

Driving Is Likely the Most Dangerous Thing You Do

The stats are grim: in 2020, 38,824 people were killed on American roads. In that same year, only three people in the entire world died while flying wing suits. Now obviously there’s a difference in participation rates, but bear with me for a second. People who don wing suits before jumping off a cliff or out of a plane spend years learning skills, ensure their equipment is in perfect condition, and focus intently while flying. That’s simply the approach required to reduce risk as much as possible. So why don’t normal people do the same for the most dangerous activity they participate in?

It’s Four-Wheel Drive, Not Four-Wheel Stop

While four- and all-wheel drive systems may be pretty effective at finding acceleration traction in slippery conditions, that can create its own problem: over confidence. Those systems do nothing for your braking distance, and which can only really be reduced by using a set of winter tires. If you’re not willing, or not able to purchase a set of those, drive only as fast as you can brake—slowly.

Daytime Running Lights Don’t Turn on Your Tail Lamps

Have your headlights set to auto? During the day, even when it’s snowing, that’s only going to illuminate small daytime running lights on the front of your vehicle. When visibility is reduced, you need to ensure that other drivers are able to see you from both the front and rear. Fully switch on your headlights—and do that any time you’re driving in conditions that reduce visibility. This step is just as important when it’s raining, foggy, or dusty.

If You Can’t See Them, Other People Can’t See You

You know the person I’m talking about. The one who’s only wiped enough snow off of their car to clear the tiniest slit of snow from their windshield, completely neglecting their rear or side windows, or head or taillights. This doesn’t just reduce that person’s vision, but by decreasing the performance of their head and tail lights, it also makes it harder for other drivers to see them. Leaving a bunch of snow piled on top of a car can also cause real problems in the event that snow suddenly shifts or flies off. Snow left piled on the hood can fly onto the windscreen, suddenly blinding the driver. Snow left on the roof can fly rearwards. If it becomes ice, that can damage cars behind you. Even if it’s just snow, it can still cause an accident by flying around.

Plus, snow and ice will accumulate on your vehicle as you drive. In challenging conditions, find a safe place to pull over, and clean off your lights, glass, and horizontal surfaces regularly.

Slow Is Smooth, Smooth Is Fast

Rushing around and leaving important jobs (like brushing snow off your car) half done creates more dangerous driving. And you know what’s going to make you late in the end? Crashing your car. Allow for extra time, drive in a manner appropriate for the conditions, and stop for a coffee if you show up some place early.

Share the Road

All of us are in this together. All my years of professional driving add up to nothing if someone blows a red light. Or, as happened yesterday, spins out trying to pass me on an icy curve. Consider how your actions effect other drivers, and try to signal as early, and as clearly as possible. In Europe, it’s common to see drivers activate their hazard lights if they find themselves needing to brake unexpectedly. You know, because that’s a hazard.

Also consider the impact the movements of your vehicle have on other drivers. If you pull only partially into a turn lane, you force others to swerve around you. Add in limited vision and slippery surfaces, and that’s a recipe for an accident. Everything you do to make things safer makes things safer for everyone else.

Be Prepared

A bag of kitty litter is never going to get you unstuck. A set of real Maxtrax will. And they’ll do that over, and over again. AAA is great, and you should definitely be a member. But you don’t have to wait for a charged-up jump starter to drive to your house from the next town over. Better yet? Just buy a new car battery every two years.

Real, effective solutions exist and are capable of solving your most common problems. It does not take that much effort to learn how they work, and which ones might be right for you. Driving is a skill, and learning it will improve your safety, increase the range of conditions in which you can enjoy yourself, and save you money. And it’ll make everyone’s life safer by making you less dangerous to drive around.

Lead Photo: NPS

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