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If You Have to Drive in a Blizzard…

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Blizzard of 1978 by Dave SWith the northeastern blizzard in the news, there has been a flurry of articles giving tips for driving in snow storms. Since Colorado has its share of snow, we are sharing some of these tips.

As Boston.com and Nick Kurczewski of the New York Daily News write, one of the best tips is to stay home and not drive. Kurczewski suggests the following to city dwellers: “If you street park, now might be a good time to spend a few extra bucks on an underground parking spot for 24-48 hours.”

But sometimes it is not possible to avoid driving, even in the worst weather. In that case, here is a list of tips:

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) says (on AspenPitkin.com) to always keep “the top half” of your gas tank full, because that gives you better traction, plus a safety valve should you get stranded.

Before going anywhere, make sure to remove the snow from your entire vehicle, writes Boston.com. A great way to do this is with a snow broom, a tool with a telescoping handle, for those hard to reach places. Removing the snow will benefit your visibility and safety, and that of vehicles behind you, Boston.com writes, noting that some snow brooms are equipped with tools to remove caked-on ice on front and rear windows.

Also before driving, make sure your lights are working, Kurczewski writes. Other drivers can’t avoid you if they can’t see your headlights, tail lights, reverse lights, and turn signals, he writes.

Another thing to check before driving is your windshield wiper fluid and your windshield wipers, Kurczewski writes. Those will make it much easier to see the road in whiteout conditions.

In a counterintuitive tip, Boston.com says NOT to follow the speed limit in a snowstorm. Instead, drive more slowly than the posted limit. Winter is “no time to cave to peer pressure to drive faster,” Boston.com writes. If traffic is piling up behind you wanting to pass, pull over and let them pass. “Better to get there eventually than not at all,” Boston.com writes.

CDOT urges Colorado drivers to make sure their tires are good ones and in good shape. The agency recommends at least a 1/8-inch tread. It also says that all-season radials on front-wheel-drive vehicles are “adequate for most situations.” And on most rear-wheel-drive vehicles, snow tires will suffice, CDOT writes.

Nick Kurczewski cautions drivers about tire inflation. “By now, we all know that under inflation is only a good thing if you’re throwing a football,” he quips. You should heed the recommendations of the tire manufacturer, he writes, noting that in general, a 10-degree drop in outdoor air temperature equals a one pound loss of pressure at each wheel. 

Kurczewski and the CDOT point out that all-wheel drive is not the same as “all-wheel-stop.” Because AWD adds weight to a vehicle, you may be at a disadvantage if you are trying to brake in an AWD vehicle at an icy intersection. Therefore,Kurczewski suggests you go slow and steady with braking, the gas pedal, and steering.

Leave double the distance you usually do between your vehicle and the one in front of you, writes Boston.com. Following too closely in snowy conditions can lead to a pileup.

Wes Siler writes for Gizmodo.com that stability control, which is on most cars made during the last decade, is a life-saver:

Probably the biggest advancement in car safety since the seatbelt, it helps you avoid crashing in the first place by individually and cleverly actuating each brake on all four of your wheels to keep the car from spinning or sliding uncontrollably.

He recommends making stability control a priority over any other feature when buying a car, especially for snow and ice driving.

Both Boston.com and Siler suggest you keep a winter driving safety kit in your car, including the following items:

  • A big heavy woolen blanket
  • Food and water
  • Snow boots
  • Warm clothes, including gloves
  • Kitty litter to throw on the snow or ice to get traction if your wheels are stuck
  • A flashlight
  • Road flares
  • A first aid kit
  • Chemical hand warmers
  • A fully charged spare cell phone
  • A small shovel in case you get stuck

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