Before you leave
Some things to do before you open the car door:
- Check the road conditions on the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) website or call (800) 452-9292.
- For those traveling outside the state of Texas, the U.S. DOT Federal Highway Association has nationwide highway closure information.
- Stay tuned to local broadcasts about the weather as well as road conditions. Check the weather where you're going as well!
- Put the Texas Department of Public Safety's Stranded Motorist Hotline number in your phone's contacts: 1-800-525-5555.
- As always, it's a good idea to have your car tools in good shape and available to use: spare tire, tire jack, and booster cables in case of battery failure.
- The TxDOT website recommends you check your vehicle before making a long trip in winter weather, including the:
- Headlights and taillights
- Wiper blades
- Antifreeze level
- Fuel and exhaust systems
- Make sure there is adequate water containing windshield antifreeze in the windshield washer reservoir. A lot of people forget to use a windshield washer fluid that does not freeze when it's 32 degrees and below.
- Bring a good ice scraper. Running a wiper across a frozen window destroys the wiper, and it doesn't really get the ice off.
- A spare blanket in the trunk.
- Non-perishable food items or snacks.
- Your First-Aid kit, a must-have for any vehicle.
- A flashlight, with extra batteries, is also recommended for any long trips in the car.
- If there is the possibility of snow and/or iced roads, a bag of sand or kitty litter is helpful to keep in the trunk, along with a hand shovel, to help gain traction in icy road conditions
- Flares are a great idea, as well as either a lighter or matches.
Consider what you will do should your vehicle break down. Do you have a charged cell phone available to make a call for help? Are you able to keep warm while you're waiting? It's always a good idea to have these things on hand:
On the road
When you are traveling in sub-freezing temperatures, there is the potential for ice on the roads. Be aware of the environmental conditions. McNew offers this advice:
- Wear your seat belts! And if you have children in the car, make sure you are using the appropriate child restraint system for their size and age. Seat belts save lives.
- Accelerate slowly and Stop sooner. Speed is always a major issue when there are freezing conditions outside. In icy conditions, stopping distance greatly increases, and the effectiveness of the brakes greatly decreases. So increase the amount of room between your vehicle and others (following distance), be cautious, and plan well ahead for times when you need to slow down and stop. Brake gently in slow, steady strokes to see how much traction you have, and begin braking early when approaching intersections or stops. If you step on your brakes and the car starts to slide, the best thing to do is to release some of that brake pressure so that those tires will start rolling again. One of the biggest reasons that people get into trouble in winter conditions is that they forget about the fact that the car just isn't going to stop as fast as they are used to.
- Be careful on bridges and overpasses. We all know that bridges and overpasses tend to ice up before the roadway itself does, so it's important to approach any bridge or overpass with a constant speed. Don't try to accelerate or decelerate while on the bridge—you want to hold a constant speed across it. Accelerating and/or decelerating on the ice can upset the stability of the car, making it veer in some other direction than where we want it to go.
- Use skid control rules. If you do find yourself skidding on ice, all the same rules of skid control apply. Take your foot off the accelerator or brakes, whichever one you happen to be on, and turn into the direction of the skid. Once you get the car straight again, you can try to bring it to a stop using a minimum amount of brake pressure so that you don't slide again. Unfortunately, it's hard to regain control when your vehicle slides, and you can quickly do a lot of damage.
- Remember you will need traction. If you have to start your vehicle while it's on an icy surface, all the gas in the world isn't going to make it go. The tires need something to provide traction, whether it's pea gravel, sand, salt, kitty litter, etc. That's why it is a good idea to have a bag of any of these in your vehicle in case this happens.
- Stay home. If it's icy outside and you don't have to absolutely go, don't go! That's the best plan with winter driving.
- Don't drive drowsy. It's never a good idea to drive during your normal bedtime hours. Coffee does not make an awake driver, it makes a caffeinated driver that's still sleepy, and you are a danger to yourself and others. You should get out of the car, and give yourself the time to rest. Drowsy drivers are as much of a danger as texting drivers and intoxicated drivers.
- Be PATIENT. During the holidays, forget about the holiday rush. Not only are there more people on the road, there are also more intoxicated drivers out there. You might be the best driver in the world, but you still have to worry about the other drivers. Plan ahead, leave in plenty of time, and expect the unexpected. But most of all, have some patience. Make room for the car that is changing lanes, and give yourself plenty of room so that you can react to what the other vehicles are doing. Keeping your cool during winter driving will help you arrive safely.
Click the links below for more information: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/trafficinfo/#trff