Winter weather presents multiple safety hazards for drivers, from black ice to shorter days. In late fall and early winter, the hazards are also compounded by deer mating season. Experts say deer strikes occur most often from October to December. That’s because during the animals’ three-month long mating season, which peaks in November, bucks chasing reluctant does are more likely to jump into traffic. Some of the worst motor vehicle accidents are weather or animal related, but many of them are avoidable. Here's a few helpful tips that could save your life or someone else's during the fall and winter season:
#1: Increase your following distance.
One of the simplest, most readily available ways to avoid an accident during any season is to increase the distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. In order to maintain a safe driving distance, it’s recommended to follow the three-second rule. In order to calculate this while driving, take note of a point of reference in front of you (a signpost or a tree, for example). When the vehicle in front passes it, you need to be able to count out three seconds before before you pass the same point. When road conditions are poor, the recommendation changes to a six-second rule. Don’t be shy about following this rule. You might get honked at, but you'll live to talk about it.
#2: Winter-proof your vehicle.
Your vehicle is what comes between you and the elements—make sure that it’s ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at you. In August to September every year, have the following checked on your vehicle:
- Anti-freeze/Coolant levels
- Transfer case and all related 4WD systems (if you operate a 4-wheel drive)
Also, be sure to keep your fuel tank full on winter trips—don't let it fall below a half tank.
#3: Keep your winter emergency kit fully stocked.
Preparedness is your best defense in an emergency. Make sure you’ve squirreled away everything you need for winter conditions in your car, including crucial items in case you’re stuck in the cold. Some recommended items:
- Windshield de-icer (at least two cans)
- 1 jug of anti freeze
- A blanket
- Ice scraper/snowbrush
- Jumper cables
- Safety triangles/cones
- Road flares
- A flashlight and batteries
- Snacks and water
- Gloves and boots
- A first-aid kit.
If this list seems like overkill, consider this: It can’t hurt, but it could come in handy or even save your life.
#4: NEVER apply brakes on ice.
Of all the types of road conditions, one of the most dangerous is black ice, so called due to the fact that it blends in with the pavement and makes it difficult to see. Black ice forms most often at night or in the early morning when the temperatures are lowest. It concentrates in areas without much sun or where the air is colder, such as tree-lined streets, tunnels, bridges, and overpasses. Reduce your speed in these areas with this in mind. However, if you do encounter ice and begin to skid, the general rule is to stay calm and do as little as possible to allow the car to pass over the ice. Usually, black ice patches aren’t longer than 20 feet. Here are a few important tips:
- Get off the gas.
- If you can, shift into a lower gear to get more control.
- Do NOT hit the brakes.
- Steer in the direction of the skid to avoid spinning out.
- Head towards areas of better traction, such as textured ice, snow, or sand.
#5: NEVER swerve to avoid an animal.
Longer periods of darkness and slippery conditions make animal strikes even more dangerous in the fall and winter. Larger animals, such as deer, can cause the most damage. Slow down at deer crossing signs and use extra caution at dawn and dust when deer are most active. If you see a deer in the road way and you know you can’t avoid the collision, get off the gas and don’t swerve. The best possible course is to drive through the hazard with the least force and motion possible. Swerving will only put you and others around you at greater risk. Following a strike, if health and safety permit, make sure your vehicle is safely off of the roadway and out of traffic.
Winter driving can be risky, there’s no way around it. But by following these tips, you’ll stay one step ahead of the curve and reduce the risk to yourself and others.
- “Deer collision season opens,” https://arc-solutions.org/article/deer-collision-season-opens-drivers-beware-mild-winter-growing-wildlife-population-increase-the-likelihood-of-accidents-experts-say/
- “How to Drive on Black Ice,” https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd488148.pdf
- “What is a safe following distance? (3 Second Rule)”, https://www.smartmotorist.com/safe-following-distance
- “Winter driving: Emergency car kit,” https://www.wsdot.com/winter/emergency-kit.htm