2008-02-22 / Community

Driving In Severe Winter Weather

Snow, high winds, fog and rain pose threats to motorists throughout February and March, months when safe driving and well-maintained vehicles take on even greater importance, according to the New York Insurance Association (NYIA).

"Drivers should always avoid speeding and keep their front and rear windshields clear-but these safety measures are critical as we move deeper into the winter season," said Ellen Melchionni, president of the NYIA.

Indeed, "driving too fast for conditions" was ranked second (21.3 percent), behind only "failure to keep in proper lane or running off road (28.5 percent)," as the behaviors causing the most fatal crashes in the U.S. in 2006, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In this same category, "overcorrecting and over-steering" was in sixth place (4.2 percent), and "swerving or avoiding due to wind, slippery surface (3.7 percent)" came in eighth on the list of contributing factors to fatal crashes. The NHTSA's figures include incidents involving motorcycles.

In order to avoid a potentially dangerous situation, the NYIA offers the following late winter driving tips:

Give yourself enough time to arrive at your destination. Trips can take longer during winter than other times of the year, especially if you encounter storm conditions or icy roads.

Bring a cell phone so that those awaiting your arrival can get in touch with you if you are very late. But avoid the temptation of using the cell phone while driving, as it can be a dangerous distraction.

Drive slowly because accelerating, stopping and turning all take longer on snow-covered roads.

Leave more distance than usual between your vehicle and the one just ahead of you, giving yourself at least 10 seconds to come to a complete stop. Cars and motorcycles usually need at least 3 seconds to halt completely when traveling on dry pavement.

Be careful when driving over bridges, as well as roadways rarely exposed to sunlight-they are often icy when other areas are not.

Avoid sudden stops and quick direction changes.

Be sure to keep your gas tank full. Stormy weather or traffic delays may force you to change routes or turn back. A fuller gas tank also averts the potential freezing of your car's gasline.

Keep windshield and windows clear. Drivers in cold-weather states should have a snow brush or scraper in their vehicle at all times. Your car's defroster can be supplemented by wiping the windows with a clean cloth to improve visibility.

Do not activate your cruise control when driving on a slippery surface.

Do not warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage.

Keep your tires properly inflated and remember that good tread on your tires is essential to safe winter driving.

Check your exhaust pipe to make sure it is clear. A blocked pipe could cause a leakage of carbon monoxide gas into your car when the vehicle's engine is running.

Monitor the weather conditions at your destination before beginning your trip. If conditions look as though they are going to be too hazardous, just stay home.

"One of the upsides of the arrival of February and March is that the days are getting longer as spring approaches," noted Melchionni. "And federal studies indicate that December and January traditionally have the most total crashes. Nevertheless, the potential hazards of late winter are particularly challenging as drivers in many states must deal not only with snow and ice on some days but heavy winds and rain on others."

Spring officially arrives on March 20, 2008.

The New York Insurance Association (NYIA) is a state trade association that has represented the property and casualty insurance industry for over 125 years. For more information on NYIA, visit www.nyia.org.

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