Safety First: Winter Driving Tips

by Misty Kevech, HHQI RN Project Coordinator

snowy roadThere have already been several major snow and ice storms across the country this year. Now that the heart of winter is upon us, HHQI would like to provide some driving tips to protect healthcare workers as they travel to care for their patients. Home health is similar to the unofficial motto of the U.S. Postal Service, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” While not all parts of the U.S. will see snow or ice this winter, rain can also cause major problems for healthcare providers that need to get to their home-bound patients. In this blog we’ll address each of these problems with expert advice from the American Automobile Association (AAA). Home health agency (HHA) leaders may consider adding these tips as part of their Emergency Preparedness education.

The following are winter driving tips are from the AAA Exchange website.

  • AAA recommends the following winter driving tips:
    • Avoid driving while you’re fatigued. Getting the proper amount of rest before taking on winter weather tasks reduces driving risks.
    • Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage.
    • Make certain your tires are properly inflated.
    • Never mix radial tires with other tire types.
    • Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze-up.
    • If possible, avoid using your parking brake in cold, rainy and snowy weather.
    • Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface (wet, ice, sand).
    • Always look and steer where you want to go.
    • Use your seat belt every time you get into your vehicle.
  • Tips for long-distance winter trips:
    • Watch weather reports prior to a long-distance drive or before driving in isolated areas. Delay trips when especially bad weather is expected. If you must leave, let others know your route, destination and estimated time of arrival.
    • Always make sure your vehicle is in peak operating condition by having it inspected by a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility.
    • Keep at least half a tank of gasoline in your vehicle at all times.
    • Pack a cellular telephone with your local AAA’s telephone number, plus blankets, gloves, hats, food, water and any needed medication in your vehicle.
    • If you become snow-bound, stay with your vehicle. It provides temporary shelter and makes it easier for rescuers to locate you. Don’t try to walk in a severe storm. It’s easy to lose sight of your vehicle in blowing snow and become lost.
    • Don’t over exert yourself if you try to push or dig your vehicle out of the snow.
    • Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna or place a cloth at the top of a rolled up window to signal distress. At night, keep the dome light on if possible. It only uses a small amount of electricity and will make it easier for rescuers to find you.
    • Make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t clogged with snow, ice or mud. A blocked exhaust could cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to leak into the passenger compartment with the engine running.
    • Use whatever is available to insulate your body from the cold. This could include floor mats, newspapers or paper maps.
    • If possible run the engine and heater just long enough to remove the chill and to conserve gasoline.
  • Tips for driving in the snow:
    • Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Don’t try to get moving in a hurry. And take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on icy roads.
    • Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping, turning – nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly.
    • The normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to ten seconds. This increased margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.
    • Know your brakes. Whether you have anti-lock brakes or not, the best way to stop is threshold breaking. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.
    • Don’t stop if you can avoid it. There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it.
    • Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed downhill as slowly as possible.
    • Don’t stop going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.
    • Stay home. If you really don’t have to go out, don’t. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can. Don’t tempt fate: If you don’t have somewhere you have to be, watch the snow from indoors.

The following are wet weather driving tips are from the AAA Exchange website.

  • General Wet Weather Tips
    • Replace windshield wiper inserts that leave streaks or don’t clear the glass in a single swipe.
    • Make sure all headlights, taillights, brake lights and turn signals are properly functioning so other drivers will see you during downpours. Turn on your headlights whenever you drive.
    • Proper tire tread depth and inflation are imperative to maintaining good traction on wet roadways. Check tread depth with a quarter inserted upside down into the tire groove. If you can see above Washington’s head, start shopping for new tires. Check each tire’s pressure, including the spare, at least once a month… and be sure to check the pressure when the tires are cold.
  • Avoid Cruise Control
    • Most modern cars feature cruise control. This feature works great in dry conditions, but when used in wet conditions, the chance of losing control of the vehicle can increase. To prevent loss of traction, the driver may need to reduce the car’s speed by lifting off the accelerator, which cannot be accomplished when cruise control is engaged.
    • When driving in wet-weather conditions, it is important to concentrate fully on every aspect of driving. Avoiding cruise control will allow the driver more options to choose from when responding to a potential loss-of-traction situation, thus maximizing your safety.
  • Slow Down and Leave Room
    • Slowing down during wet weather driving can be critical to reducing a car’s chance of hydroplaning, when the tires rise up on a film of water. With as little as 1/12 inch of water on the road, tires have to displace a gallon of water per second to keep the rubber meeting the road. Drivers should reduce their speed to correspond to the amount of water on the roadway. At speeds as low as 35 mph, new tires can still lose some contact with the roadway.
    • To reduce chances of hydroplaning, drivers should slow down, avoid hard braking or turning sharply and drive in the tracks of the vehicle ahead of you. Also, it’s important for motorists to allow ample stopping distance between cars by increasing the following distance of the vehicle in front of them and beginning to slow down to stop for intersections, turns and other traffic early.
  • Responding to a Skid
    • Continue to look and steer in the direction in which the driver wants the car to go.
    • Avoid slamming on the brakes as this will further upset the vehicle’s balance and make it harder to control.
    • If you feel the car begin to skid, continue to look and steer in the direction you want the car to go. Don’t panic, and avoid slamming on the brakes to maintain control.

Resources:

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