Here on the East Coast, the first snowstorm of the season has already wreaked havoc on local roadways. Frigid temperatures, icy streets, and inexperienced drivers all make driving during the winter months especially hazardous.
In a matter of seconds, a spinout or rear-end crash can leave passengers with life-changing head, neck, and spine injuries. However, a bit of patience and preparation can help motorists avoid cold-weather car accidents. Remembering some safety tips will help ensure a safe and accident-free season. For those drivers who are involved in an accident, a seasoned car accident lawyer will provide expert assistance.
Winter Driving Hazards
According to carsurance.net, 17 percent of all motor vehicle accidents happen in winter weather conditions, and car accidents occur for nearly 70 percent of winter fatalities. Those alarming statistics make motorists wonder what makes driving in the winter so dangerous. Risks of driving in winter weather include the following issues:
- Poor visibility caused by snowfall.
- Frozen windows and mirrors make it hard for drivers to see out.
- Sleet and snow reduce traction, causing vehicles to spin out.
- Passengers stuck in disabled vehicles risk hypothermia.
- More stopping time is required for wet and icy roads.
- Holiday festivities mean more drivers under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
- Inexperienced and/or aggressive drivers causing winter car accidents.
Tips for Driving in the Snow
Nearly 70 percent of the nation’s population lives in areas that get snow. That means learning to navigate ice and snow-covered roadways is a real priority for millions of drivers in the United States. Here are some simple driving tips to help every driver get where they are going safe and sound this winter:
Plan the Route
It does not matter if a driver takes the same route every day. Those familiar roads become more treacherous during snowfall, especially in areas with traffic congestion and steep hills. Sometimes the shortest route is not always the safest. To reduce the risk of an accident, motorists should travel along well-lit highways that are frequently sanded and plowed.
Clear the Vehicle Before Driving
Going outside in bitter weather to clear ice and snow from the car is not the most enjoyable task. However, trying to save time by letting the car thaw off while driving is a dangerous practice. Drivers need to plan accordingly and allow extra time to de-ice windows and mirrors and remove snow from all other surfaces. Driver should also follow these suggestions:
- Motorists should not forget to clear the roof, as snow can slide down while driving and block the windshield.
- Snow should be removed from headlights and taillights to make the vehicle visible to other drivers and pedestrians.
- Drivers need to wipe off the lens of a rear-view camera to making backing up safe.
Visibility is not the only reason to clear the vehicle completely before departing. When large chunks of ice and snow fall off on the road, it can hit other vehicles, causing property damage and devastating physical injuries. In some municipalities, failure to remove snow completely from the vehicle before driving can even bring a ticket and fines.
Check the Tailpipe
As snow accumulates on the ground, ice, snow, and other debris can clog a vehicle’s tailpipe. When the exhaust is blocked, carbon monoxide that would normally escape instead seeps into the interior of the vehicle. These odorless and colorless fumes can be fatal to anyone breathing them in an enclosed space.
Take It Slow
Impatient drivers will not want to hear this bit of advice, but it is so important. Winter driving requires some adjustment. Drivers should slow down and anticipate stops, turns, and accelerations well in advance. Sudden motions increase the chance of skidding or spinning out.
Motorists can imagine the tires doing one thing at a time. Therefore, while braking or accelerating, drivers should not steer. When turning, it is not the time to brake. Driving in the snow requires a high level of attentiveness. For this reason, cruise control or semi-autonomous driving systems should not be engaged in poor weather.
Avoid Frequent Braking
As mentioned above, winter drivers should avoid braking while turning. Braking in the snow and sleet should be a slow and smooth motion. Pumping the brakes can put the vehicle in an uncontrollable skid.
While maintaining at least three car lengths between themselves and the car ahead, drivers should brake early and smoothly to stop safely. Additional distance is needed in black ice and other slick conditions. Most modern vehicles are equipped with anti-lock brakes that do the gradual pulsing necessary for each wheel to gradually slow to a stop.
Winterize the Vehicle
A car, truck, or SUV that is not ready for winter is likely to break down. No driver wants to get stuck away from home during a blizzard. Drivers should ensure that all parts and systems are in good working order and ready to withstand freezing temperatures.
Pack an Emergency Kit
It is not fun to imagine stalling in a snowstorm or being involved in a serious winter car accident. However, preparing for the worst may be the key to saving lives. Every vehicle should have a safety kit on board stocked with essentials to keep passengers warm, safe, and easy for others to locate in an emergency. A winter vehicle emergency kit should contain the following items:
- Phone chargers
- Basic first-aid kit
- Warm blankets
- Collapsible snow shovel
- Gloves, hats, and scarves
- Ice-scraper and snow brush
- A flashlight and extra batteries
- Water and non-perishable snacks
- Emergency flares or warning triangles
How Should Drivers Winterize Their Vehicle?
It is a good idea to schedule a regular date to winterize a vehicle as the colder months approach every year. The following is a basic to-do list for a winter-ready vehicle:
- Battery: Cold weather puts added strain on car batteries. The battery should be checked for charge and corrosion and replaced if necessary.
- Brakes: The brakes should be inspected every year to ensure there is no rust and that brake pads and other parts are in good condition.
- Fluids: Oil, windshield washer, engine coolant, and brake fluids keep the vehicle running smoothly no matter the weather or temperature. Drivers should replace or refill all fluids as needed.
- Lights and bulbs: Worn-out bulbs must be replaced. A soft, microfiber cloth should be used to remove dirt and grime from all lenses, and windows and mirrors as well.
- Tires: Motorists should check air pressure and tread on all tires. In areas that get a lot of snow, drivers should consider installing winter tires designed to grip the road better in bad weather.
- Windshield wipers: Ice and snow put a lot of wear and tear on windshield wipers. It easy and affordable to replace windshield wiper blades at least annually.
A routine maintenance appointment with a trusted mechanic is always a good idea to keep the vehicle running well in the winter. Being proactive to prepare for low temperatures, ice, and snow can save drivers from inconvenient breakdowns, dangerous car accidents, and painful injuries.
What Should I Do After a Winter Car Accident?
Unfortunately, even when a driver takes all the necessary precautions to prevent an accident, unpredictable winter weather may have other plans.
Anyone involved in a car accident because of snow or ice should take the following steps:
Assess the scene: Drivers should stay calm and look for anyone who may be seriously hurt. No person involved in the accident who has pain or shows signs of injury should be moved.
Call for help: Motorists should explain to first responders how the accident occurred. If a driver was speeding or looking at their phone prior to the crash, those details should be mentioned as well. When the police take a report at the scene, drivers should relay only the facts of the crash.
Gather information: Drivers should take down contact information for everyone at the scene, including name, phone numbers, insurance information, and license plate numbers. Nearby witnesses can be asked for their contact information as well. Their testimony can help support a future legal claim.
Get medical treatment: First responders will transport anyone with obvious injuries to the hospital. Others should get a full check-up as soon as possible to rule out injuries, including those that develop in the days and weeks after the accident.
Contact a lawyer: It is always a good idea to reach out to an experienced car accident lawyer before contacting the insurance company. Their job is to review any proposed insurance settlements, manage legal claims, and pursue financial compensation for damages.
Contact the insurance company: After reporting the accident to the insurance company, drivers need to be careful not to accept any fault for the crash. If the insurance company offers a settlement, a lawyer should be consulted to ensure that the settlement is fair and sufficient to cover any costs related to the accident.
Driving in a winter snowfall does not have to be treacherous. From winterizing the vehicle and taking it slow, there are easy steps every driver can take to stay safe and enjoy the colder months ahead.
Freehold Car Accident Lawyers at Ellis Law Fight for Clients Injured in Weather-Related Crashes
Many people have anxiety about driving in winter conditions, and with good reason. More than 100,000 people are injured in winter car accidents every year in the United States. If you were hurt in a snow-related crash in New Jersey, the Freehold car accident lawyers at Ellis Law can help. After carefully assessing the details of your accident, injuries, and medical expenses, we will recommend the best legal course of action. We are determined to recover the compensation you deserve for your losses to help you move forward and begin healing. Call us at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation.
Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.