As winter approaches and the average temperature begins to drop, St. Louis drivers should prepare for driving in snowy and icy conditions. According to the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), the frequency of car accidents increases during the winter months, usually peaking in December. To minimize the risk of getting into a car accident, please consider the following tips for operating your vehicle during the winter.
Inspecting Your Vehicle
Check fluids. Before you even start your car, make sure your car fluids are at a proper level. Pay close attention to the fluid levels for your antifreeze and power steering reservoirs and make sure it hasn’t frozen over. If your power steering fluid is below an optimal level, your ability to steer could be severely impaired.
Check tires. Make sure the tread and sidewalls of your tires aren’t too worn-down or damaged. Also, keep in mind that tire pressure naturally decreases with the temperature. When temperatures drop to freezing levels, you can expect your tires to be underinflated by 2-5 psi. When this happens, you should inflate your tires to the recommended pressure for your car.
Check windshield wipers. Effective windshield wipers are an essential part of driving in extreme winter conditions. Your car’s wipers will wear out faster during the winter because the cold makes the rubber more brittle. Unless you already replaced your windshield wipers in the past 6 months, you should start winter with a fresh set of wipers.
If you are leaving your car outside overnight, make sure to extend your windshield wipers out, so they aren’t touching the glass. Otherwise, the wipers will freeze to your windshield. You may be forced to scrape them out of the ice, likely damaging the rubber in the process.
Warming Up Your Car
Let your car run for a couple of minutes. Start your engine and let it warm up until your temperature gauge approaches a moderate temperature. Engine oil thickens in cold temperatures, neutralizing its lubricative properties. As a result, driving your car before your fluids reach a moderate temperature could put undue strain on your vehicle.
Clear off snow and ice. Take the time to thoroughly clear snow and ice from the following areas:
- The windshield. Don’t rely on your wipers to clear off the snow. Your wipers will be ineffective against thick ice. Rough ice can potentially damage your wipers.
- Headlights. If your lights are obstructed by ice and snow, they will emit only a faint glow. As a result, you will have a difficult time seeing what’s in front of you, and others will have an equally hard time seeing you.
- Brake lights. Without brake lights, drivers behind you won’t be able to tell if you are decelerating.
- The surface of your hood, trunk, and roof. If you do not clear off these surfaces before you start driving at highway speeds, any remaining ice chunks will come soaring toward neighboring cars at a dangerous speed.
Driving Your Vehicle
Drive slower. If you find yourself driving at the same speeds you would in dry weather conditions, you are probably exceeding the safe driving speed by 10 mph. Driving slow gives you more time to respond to hazards.
Avoid ice patches. In near-freezing weather conditions, a thin layer of water will develop across the surface of the ice, which will significantly reduce the friction between your tires and the road (a phenomenon known as “hydroplaning”). When your car encounters a hydroplane, it is no different than if your vehicle left the ground and went flying in mid-air.
No sudden maneuvers. If you drive through an ice patch, try not to abruptly correct your steering at an exaggerated degree or suddenly decelerate or accelerate. If you attempt to break or accelerate, you could end up losing control and hydroplaning. Your car will continue moving in the direction of its momentum at the time it entered the hydroplane.
Plan to leave earlier. You can easily plan for driving in weather conditions. By leaving 15 to 20 minutes earlier than you usually would, you give yourself room to drive at a safer speed. Departing earlier prevents you from rushing so you do not feel the need to drive faster.
Supplies. Make sure you have snow-clearing equipment in your car at all times, including a snow shovel, a windshield scraper, and a brush for your side-view mirrors. Keep blankets in your vehicle and a first aid kit in case you are injured in a crash that renders your car inoperable.
Speak with Our Distinguished Personal Injury Attorneys in St. Louis
Adapting your driving habits to extreme weather conditions will help prevent car accidents. However, other drivers may not change their driving habits. If their negligence results in an unavoidable accident, you should hire an experienced St. Louis personal injury attorney to help obtain just recompense for injuries you sustained as a result of someone else’s carelessness.
At Cantor Injury Law, we have years of invaluable experience handling car accident cases. Our clients can rely on our tremendous skill and sophisticated understanding of accident litigation to seek compensatory damages from those responsible for injury-producing accidents.