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It’s Snow Big Deal: 10 Winter Driving Tips

December 16, 2013
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Here in southeast Michigan, we had our first real snowfall of the season this past weekend, and it turned our roads into vehicular slip-and-slides. The surface streets and freeways were littered with disabled vehicles as white-knuckled motorists slipped and slid by, trying (often in vain, judging by the number of fender benders I saw) to remember how to drive in the snow.

Of course, having grown up in the Minneapolis area, I am overly confident in my winter driving skills. Never mind that I have a tiny, two-wheel-drive, stick-shift subcompact with less horsepower than a lawnmower ― that’s irrelevant, because I grew up in a place where it wasn’t cold until your nostrils froze together and a snowstorm wasn’t a snowstorm until the snowdrifts were taller than you. (OK, maybe that last one was an exaggeration, but only barely).

Anyway, I decided that a wimpy little snow storm wasn’t going to keep me from driving an hour north to spend time with family on Saturday. It’s just a little snow, right? No big deal, right? Well, let’s just say that my blood pressure was much, much higher by the time I reached my destination several hours later, and I’m pretty sure there are still finger-sized indents on the steering wheel and gearshift.

But I digress. My point is that as HVAC contractors, you and your techs often spend a lot of time on the road, in all kinds of weather. And as the weather turns colder and hazardous winter driving conditions become the norm, now may be a good time to help your employees brush up on their winter driving skills.

To help you along, I’ve aggregated a list of the top 10 tips for safe winter driving. Here they are, in no particular order:

•Keep on top of vehicle maintenance. This one comes from the Car Talk guys, who wrote: “Nothing's a big deal in the summer. You break down? So what? It's a nice night out. Look at all those stars! But break down when it's minus jaw-freezing outside, and that's a different story.” Well put, Click and Clack.

•Make sure you and your car are properly equipped. Weather.com advises to “equip your car with a flashlight and extra batteries, a first aid kit, warm clothes, and a blanket.” Also, don’t forget your cell phone and charger, jumper cables, extra wiper fluid, and sunglasses.

•Keep your gas tank full. If you get stuck in a blizzard, you probably do not want your only source of heat to sputter out on you.

•Buckle up. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) advises drivers and all passengers to fasten their seatbelts. For the little ones, make sure child safety seats are used properly. Never place a rear-facing infant seat in front of an air bag, and make sure children 12 and under are restrained properly in the back seat.

•Don’t use cruise control. This one is on several safe-driving lists from AAA, weather.com, etc. When your car starts to slip, cruise control can quickly make things much worse. Save it for better weather.

•Don’t tailgate, and do slow down. When roads are slippery, vehicles need more time and distance to stop, so leave plenty of distance between yourself and the car in front of you. Weather.com says: “Driving too quickly is the main cause of accidents in winter conditions. Even if you're driving an SUV or a four-wheel-drive vehicle, you cannot safely do 80 mph during a snowstorm.”

Give plow trucks ample room. From the Minnesota Department of Public Safety: “Stay back at least five car lengths behind the plow, far from the snow cloud. Snowplow operators will pull over when it is safe to do so to allow traffic build-up to pass.”

•Tackle a skid the smart way. If you start sliding, GEICO has these tips: “Don’t panic, don’t slam on the brakes, take your foot off the gas, steer your car in the direction you want it to go, and wait for the car to slow down so you can regain control.” They also suggest going to a parking lot to practice losing and regaining control of your vehicle.

•Drive while alert. Obviously, drinking and driving is never a good idea, but driving while fatigued can also be very dangerous ― especially when you need to be extra alert due to inclement weather. Get plenty of rest before driving, take breaks if you need them, and let someone else take the wheel if you get tired.

•Pull over or stay home. Finally, if you don’t feel safe driving, either pull over or don’t even get on the road in the first place. Weather.com says: “Remember, there is no shame in making the logical decision to stay in when the conditions are bad. You may be late arriving to your destination, but arriving late in one piece is much better than the alternative.” For HVAC contractors, this means making sure your employees aren’t putting themselves at risk out on the road.  

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