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Old Man Winter Brings New Challenges to Driving

Jason Reese

As long as we may have avoided it, there’s no doubt winter is here. And though Indiana is not a heavy snowfall state, winter weather still presents a serious hazard for drivers. Our state typically sees around 15 inches of snow each year, and all of it accumulates between the months of December and March, with January and February each providing 1/3 of that snowfall. The dangers of winter driving extend far beyond snow, however. Ice, sleet, and freezing temperatures all pose a threat to Indiana drivers and can contribute to a serious winter driving accident or other driving-related weather events leading to catastrophic injury or death.

Winter Readiness for Vehicles is Critical for Preventing Accidents

Too many people forget (or wait too long) to ensure their vehicle is ready for the winter. Others become complacent in their exposure to winter: “I’ve been driving in snow for 20 years!” Which is all well and good if the person means they’ve learned over time how to reduce their risk of winter driving accidents through proactive steps undertaken intentionally. But really, most often they are really implying that somehow their experience (no matter how cautious or appropriate it may be) inures them against being involved in a winter driving accident.

In reality, there are multiple aspects involved in keeping Indiana drivers safe during the winter months. Experience is, indeed, one of those. Other critical preparations require more advance planning and individual action.

One of the most important things drivers need to do before the weather gets too nasty is to have their vehicle checked and fully prepared for winter driving. Mechanically speaking, the wet, cold, and icy days of winter challenge a vehicle’s operating efficiency and safety more than any other kind of weather. An unprepared vehicle can cause terrible damage during winter driving, especially because ice and snow increase the odds of a multi-vehicle accident.

Get Your Vehicle’s Systems a Full Check-Up

AAA recommends a full check of your vehicle in the fall, specifically focusing on the below areas. If you have not had your systems checked yet, it is never too late! I encourage you to have a mechanic review the following:

Electrical System. A mechanical review of your vehicle’s electrical system should focus on the battery, ignition system, and lights. Certainly, a poorly functioning battery can leave you out in the cold, but many people are unaware that starting an automobile in cold weather requires a fully charged battery. The fall is a good time to ensure that your batter is replaced if needed.

Damage to the components of the ignition system cannot only result in a car that doesn’t start, but it can also cause a vehicle to break down suddenly. This is a real threat to the safety of those in your vehicle, as well as to bystanders and other drivers and passengers. Ignition wires, distributor caps, and spark plugs need to be inspected carefully to catch any small cracks or minor wear that could progress quickly and cause mechanical failure.

A vehicle’s lights serve two major purposes, and both are key to avoiding winter driving accidents. First, they help you to see, particularly in difficult driving conditions. Second, they help others to see you. Mechanical issues with brake lights, rear lights, or headlights can leave you in the dark, with poor vision and poor visibility. This is also a good time to make sure your lights are clean. If your lights are working well, but they can’t shine through a layer of dirt, you are still at risk for a winter driving accident.

Any fall inspection should also include an evaluation of the vehicle’s brake system, exhaust system, heating and cooling system, and tires. While malfunctions in the exhaust or heating and cooling system can result in injury or death due to carbon monoxide poisoning or weather exposure, a problem with the brake system or a vehicle’s tires can pose a lethal threat to everyone on the road.

Winter Driving Requires Different Driving Techniques

Since Indiana residents are most likely only using winter driving techniques for a few months each year, and even then not every single day, it can be easy to fall back on normal driving techniques. Driving becomes such an instinctive activity for us that it does require our active attention to make changes for winter driving. This can be particularly difficult for new and inexperienced drivers with fewer winters under the belts. Here are a few helpful reminders intended to keep you safe this season:

  • Remove snow and ice from the entire vehicle. Most people cheat this rule big time, usually in an attempt to get to work on time. Leave yourself the time to clear your car off completely, especially the windows, lights, and all areas whether blowing snow could cause visibility issues (i.e. the hood, roof, and top of trunk).
  • Increase your following distance from the “normal” weather recommendation of four seconds to around 8-10 seconds. This will prevent rear-end accidents (or tragic intersection accidents) caused when you cannot stop in time.
  • Drive in the most recently cleared lanes, especially on highways. It is much easier for a driver to lose control of their vehicle when crossing over the build-up between lanes.
  • Never use cruise control on wet or icy surfaces.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be tackling other winter driving topics on this blog. Stay tuned for next week when we talk about braking, steering, and skids. Until then, please drive safely. During the winter driving season, we are all relying on one another to keep our community safe.

If tragedy strikes and you or someone you love is injured in a winter driving accident, please call the vehicular accident attorneys at Wagner Reese for a completely free consultation. We will put our decades of experience to work for you, and we won’t collect any fees unless your case is settled or won. Call today: (888) 204-8440.

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