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8 Features for Safer Driving in Wintry Weather

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Snow on I-70 in Colorado

I-70 in Colorado

With winter storm Leon impacting many southeastern states that are unaccustomed to snow, many roads have been experiencing traffic jams. “Ice-slicked interstates remain closed from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle,” Weather.com reports. Students in Georgia and Alabama have had to sleep in their schools, and many Atlanta residents were forced to leave their vehicles and spend Tuesday night inside grocery stores, home improvement stores and pharmacies. With waves of wintry weather hitting most of the country over the last several weeks (including Colorado), it’s good to know which vehicle safety features are the most helpful in ice and snow.

Writing for Bankrate.com, Mitch Strohm recommends several:

Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is very important, especially when roads are slippery with ice. It helps prevent loss of vehicle control and “spinout” auto accidents that are so common in wintry conditions. Using sensors and a microcomputer, ESC monitors a vehicle’s steering, applies the brakes as needed and modulates the engine, Strohm writes. The government began requiring ESC on all new passenger vehicles starting with the 2012 model year. ESC is very effective in reducing crashes and can help prevent rollovers, Strohm writes.

Forward-Collision Avoidance Systems either give drivers warnings or brake automatically when sensors detect that vehicles in front of yours stop suddenly or if yours is getting too close to the one in front, Strohm writes. This feature prevents rear-end collisions.

Lane Departure Warning and Prevention uses sensors to monitor lane markings, Strohm writes. It alerts drivers if they are unintentionally drifting out of lane, through vibrations in the steering wheel or the seat. Other vehicles have audible or visual warnings. The effectiveness of the warnings, however, depends on driver reaction, Strohm says, noting that “the real promise” is with lane-departure prevention, in which a vehicle actively resists moving out of the lane by automatically braking slightly and adjusting the setting.

Fatigue Warnings, which keep drivers alert and awake behind the wheel, come in two varieties: those that monitor the driver’s face or eye movements and those that monitor the driving itself (such as sudden lane or steering changes), Strohm writes. The system warns a drowsy driver by sounding an alarm. However, systems that automatically correct the lane drifting or steering are more effective in preventing accidents than those that merely sound an alarm, Strohm writes. Fatigue warning is currently only a high-end option.

Adaptive Headlights are not as common as other safety features, but they can help drivers see better on dark, curved roads and are especially helpful in fog or rain, Strohm writes. He adds: “This car safety feature was found to be even more effective in preventing crashes than Highway Loss Data Institute researchers expected.”

Antilock Brakes are especially useful on wet and slippery roads. They are part of ESC systems and are also required as standard equipment on passenger vehicles beginning with the 2012 model year, Strohm notes. Antilock braking systems (ABS) work by using sensors to monitor the rotational speeds of certain wheels when a driver hits the brakes. If the wheels should lock up, the electronic control releases braking pressure multiple times per second. Despite the safety features of antilock brakes, Strohm writes, for some reason they have not had a significant impact on passenger vehicle crashes, even during winter months.

Strohm writes:

The IIHS says the average motorist rarely experiences total loss of control, which antilock brakes prevent. In addition, many drivers in the early days of antilock brakes didn’t know how to use them effectively.

‘To be effective, the driver must step firmly on the brakes without pumping them. That’s an aspect that many drivers don’t understand,’ [Carroll] Lachnit [features editor for Edmunds.com] says.

In addition, Eleanor Collier recommends the following winter driving safety features in a Gazelle article:

Wi-Fi Hotspots for Connectivity will make it possible for drivers to send a wireless signal to their smartphones while driving. This will make it easy for drivers to get up-to-date weather reports in wintry weather. Collier writes: “With built-in navigation from Google Earth, looking for alternate routes in difficult driving conditions will become that much easier.” However, as this blog reported on Tuesday, some experts say drivers who look at their smartphones while driving put themselves at risk.

Warm Steering Wheels make for safer driving because a driver can use one without having to wear gloves, thus having a firmer grip on the wheel. Heated steering wheels are now seen as a safety feature and not just a luxury, Collier writes.

Image by Devon Hollahan.

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