December marks the beginning of winter. While winter brings fun activities like sledding, snowmobiling, and ice skating, winter weather can make one daily activity – driving – just a bit more complicated. This article provides some helpful winter weather driving tips for Alabama drivers.
Alabama’s Winter Weather
Because Alabama is so far south, people might think that winter weather is a non-issue. However, snow and ice are a major part of Alabama’s winter weather patterns.
The National Weather Service (NWS) reports that while winter weather is not necessarily an everyday occurrence in Alabama, it happens far more often than people might think. The NWS records state that Alabama has experienced several serious winter weather events. In 1993, 13 inches of snow fell in Birmingham. However, on average, it snows in Alabama about three times per year. A typical Alabama snowfall generates around one to three inches of snow.
All parts of Alabama experience winter. Snow, ice, and sleet have happened not just in the north but also as far south as the Gulf Coast. So, while northern states might get more snow, Alabama drivers still need to think about how to drive safely during the winter.
Winter Weather: Types of Weather To Watch Out For
When most people think of winter weather, they think of snow. A thick – or thin – blanket of snow on a road can wreak havoc on drivers’ commutes. But other types of winter weather also cause road hazards.
Other types of winter weather that make driving dangerous include freezing rain, sleet, and frost. Sleet forms when falling snow partially melts but refreezes before hitting the ground. Similarly, freezing rain happens when snow partially melts but does not refreeze completely before falling. Frost happens when moist air collects on surfaces overnight then freezes.
Ice is one of the most dangerous weather conditions. Ice forms in a variety of ways. Melted snow that refreezes overnight often turns to ice. Sleet and freezing rain can accumulate on roads, covering them in slick, shiny ice. People often call the clear ice that forms on dark roads “black ice” because it is difficult for drivers to see.
Winter Driving Statistics
Winter driving presents many challenges. Experts note that:
– Winter weather causes nearly 500,000 car accidents each year;
– The risk of an accident increases by 34 percent during rain or snow;
– Nationally, the combined types of winter weather (ice, snow, sleet, and freezing rain) cause 47 percent of all car crashes and 33 percent of all crash fatalities;
– Alabama’s rate of deadly winter weather accidents is much higher than that of neighboring states; and
– In 2018, 407 Alabamans died in crashes related to winter weather.
These statistics prove that Alabama drivers should proceed with caution during the winter.
The Dangers of Driving in Winter Weather
Driving during winter weather is more difficult for many reasons.
Winter Danger #1 – Slippery Roads
Winter weather makes roads wet and slippery. While ice is the most obvious cause of slippery roads, the wetness created by both fresh and melted snow also makes roads slippery. Wet and slippery roads make it harder to brake. In fact, it can take a car up to 10 times longer to stop on a wet or slippery road.
Winter Danger #2 – Lack of Visibility
Just as pouring rains make it more difficult for drivers to see, a light snowfall, sleet storm, or a sheet of freezing rain can reduce your visibility. When you can’t see road hazards clearly, you have less time to react to them.
Winter can affect visibility even when it isn’t snowing. Winter means that there is cold air outside your car. Running the heater (or even breathing normally) warms up the air inside the car. The temperature difference between the outside and inside can result in a foggy windshield. A clouded windshield makes it even harder to see the road.
Also, winter has shorter days, which means nighttime starts much earlier. This means more night driving, which further reduces visibility.
Winter Danger #3 – Human Error
While winter weather causes problems, humans increase the risk in many ways. Many people simply don’t know how to drive in winter weather. Worse, some people who have never learned the basics of driving in winter weather assume that they do. This assumption often leads to dangerous mistakes and car accidents.
At the other end of the spectrum, some people are terrified to drive in wintry conditions. As a result, these people overcorrect by driving too slowly. Though it might come from a good place, overly cautious tactics like these still put others in danger.
Following basic winter weather driving tips can help all drivers feel more confident and drive more safely.
Ten Winter Weather Driving Tips
The tips below are designed to help drivers meet the special challenges presented by winter weather. While this is not a complete list, following these winter weather driving tips will help you navigate the winter roads.
1. Brake Properly
Slamming brakes on a wet, slippery road is a bad idea. Stopping suddenly on a slippery surface can cause your car to spin out of control.
Instead of slamming on the brakes, gently pump the brakes to help you stop safely. (NOTE: If you have anti-lock brakes, you may have to do the opposite, but check your car’s manual.)
2. Begin Stopping Sooner
Wet roads and reduced visibility mean that you’ll need more time to stop. When you see a stop sign, begin stopping earlier than you would in dry conditions. In fair weather, a car going 30 mph will stop in about 75 feet. On a wet or snowy road, the same car may need up to 750 feet to reach a complete stop. Plan accordingly.
3. Increase Your Following Distance
Because it’s more difficult to stop in winter, you should increase your following distance. Normally, you need to leave about 3 to 4 seconds of lead time between your car and the vehicle in front of you. In winter, you should double this time.
4. Go Easy on the Gas Pedal
Just as slamming the brake pedal can cause issues, when you need to accelerate on a snowy road, do so gradually. Tap the gas pedal gently until you reach your desired speed.
5. Drive at the Proper Speed
Driving too fast can cause you to skid. To avoid this, the federal government recommends that drivers reduce their speed to 1/3 of the posted speed limit on wet roads and 1/2 of the speed limit in snowy conditions. (So, if the posted limit is 30 mph, drivers should reduce their speed to 20 mph on wet roads and 15 mph in the snow.) Slowing down can help you move safely through the hazards.
6. Avoid the Most Dangerous Times
Roads are coldest – and therefore, at their iciest – in the late night and early morning hours. Stay off the road at these times if you can.
7. Prepare for Bridges, Overpasses, and Other Icy Areas
The ground holds heat. Ice needs time to overcome that warmth. However, bridges and overpasses are suspended in mid-air. Therefore, ice usually forms on these areas well before it does on roads. Approach bridges and overpasses with caution during the winter.
8. Maintain Your Car Properly
Failure to maintain properly your car can cause an accident. Winter is especially difficult for tires. Cold weather causes the air in tires to contract, which can lead to underinflated or even flat tires. While no one wants to change a flat tire in the snow, underinflated tires are the real danger here. Tires are designed to grip the road. Underinflated tires have less connection with the road, which is particularly dangerous when driving on slick winter roads that already reduce traction. Check your tire pressure often.
9. Keep an Emergency Kit
Getting into a car accident at any time of year is stressful but waiting for assistance on the side of a snowy road can also be dangerous. To prepare for emergencies, keep an emergency kit in your trunk. The kit should include:
– A blanket
– A cell phone charger, emergency charger, or extra battery
– A first aid kit
– A flashlight
– An extra pair of gloves
– An ice scraper
– Jumper Cables
– Sand or Kitty Litter (to provide traction if you get stuck)
10. Review the Basics of Winter Weather Driving Each Year
Because Alabama doesn’t get as much snow as other places, it’s possible to go for long stretches without significant snow. As a result, it’s easy to forget the essentials driving in winter weather. Review these winter weather driving tips each year to keep them fresh in your mind.
More Questions About Winter Weather Driving Tips?
Winter driving can be dangerous, but following these winter weather driving tips will help you arrive safely at your destination. If you have questions about driving in the winter or been injured in a car crash in Alabama, contact Collins Law, LLC today. Our team works hard to protect the legal rights of each client. Contact us today for a free consultation.