Stay alive while driving in winter weather

Dawn Findlay Linzey’s story is all too common.

When she was 22, the resident of the Kenvil section of Roxbury decided to venture through a nasty January snowstorm to make it to work at her first full-time job. Driving down Route 10, she slowed at a stoplight but quickly realized she had hit black ice.

Linzey slammed on the brakes, but her car collided with the car in front of her while she was going 15 miles per hour. Luckily, she was safe, but her car lost both of its headlights, and the grille and radiator were punctured.

We can’t always avoid traveling in rough winter weather because of jobs, holidays and other functions, but there are plenty of things that we can do to keep safe when snow and ice are afoot.

1One of the most common mistakes that people make — when driving in the wintertime or anytime — is using their cellphones while driving.

“If you put using a cellphone into the mix with rough conditions, the results can be disastrous,” said Robert Gaydosh, north region supervisor of NJ Division of Highway Traffic Safety.

Sue Madden, public affairs specialist at AAA Mid-Atlantic, suggested that people who feel that they cannot ignore their phones turn them off completely because sometimes the urge to answer a ringing phone can be overbearing.

“Think about it this way: If you’re looking at your phone while driving, the person in the car next to you is probably looking at their phone, too,” she said.

2Another common mistake that winter drivers often make is not keeping enough distance between their car and the one in front of it, since extra room needs to be accounted for in case the car slides.

Gaydosh said that in poor weather, drivers should stay between eight to 10 seconds behind the car in front of them as well as keep their speed adjusted to the weather conditions by at or below the posted speed limit.

In order to keep other cars around them safe, drivers also need to be sure that they should completely clear their cars of snow or ice. What some offenders may not realize is that in New Jersey, there is a $75 fine for not clearing your car of snow and ice, and that fine can skyrocket to $200 to $1,000 if the snow or ice causes damage to another vehicle.

Gaydosh also suggests that people be mindful of plow trucks when driving through snow.


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“It used to amaze me what people would do, cutting people off and causing near accidents when the plow trucks were working. Keep in mind that these trucks can’t see who’s coming up behind or around them,” he said.

If you find yourself trapped in a storm that you deem unsafe to be driving in, you should turn your flashers on and remain with your vehicle so that help can find you. Madden said that stranded drivers should also call AAA and move their cars to a safe location.

“You don’t want to be hit by another driver,” said Madden. “Hang something out of your window so that there will be visibility and drivers or plow trucks can see you.”

In the event that you are caught in a storm, Gaydosh and Madden also recommend that drivers keep an ice scraper and brush, a small shovel, a flashlight, a bag of sand or cat litter for traction and water bottles and granola bars because you don’t know how long you will be stranded.

Sometimes, however, we must tackle winter weather when driving, and then things can go awry and we can lose control of our vehicles. Madden said that in this case, drivers should press lightly on their brakes, rather than pumping them, and Gaydosh said that drivers should steer their cars in their direction that the rear of the car is going.

“When I hit black ice and struck another vehicle, I panicked and hit the brakes, which didn’t help,” said Linzey. “There was nothing I could do to prevent the accident since the road looked clear, but now that I’m older, I realize I have a lot to lose and I won’t drive in weather like that.”

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