10 Safety Tips for the Chaotic Christmas Season

November 30th, 2012
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Driving in Holiday Conditions

Thanksgiving has come and gone and Christmas chaos is around the corner. This means an influx of families on the road, hazardous driving conditions and the much dreaded shopping traffic.

We have listed 10 must know driving tips to help you and your family have safe travels this Christmas season.

1. Avoid warming up a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage
Even though you can’t see or smell it, your vehicle emits carbon monoxide gas. High levels of carbon monoxide can kill a person in minutes when the garage door is closed. Also, make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t clogged with snow, ice or mud. This could cause carbon monoxide gas to leak into the passenger compartment with the engine running.

2. Check tire pressure frequently and when tires are cold
As you remember from your high school chemistry class, molecules contract in cold weather. This causes tires to be underinflated, which can result in longer stopping distances (and longer skids!) on wet surfaces. Besides saving fuel and minimizing emissions, properly inflated tires offer the best contact with the road and thus are safer.

3. Replace your summer tires with all-season or winter tires
Many newer vehicles today come with summer tires installed from the factory. Although, these tires provide fantastic cornering and traction on dry/wet pavement, they don’t particularly do well on snow and ice. Summer tires also tend to get hard and brittle in cold temperatures, which can affect a vehicle’s ability to stop and steer. In comparison, all-season tires are constructed to perform well in all seasons. In general, they hold up better to cold temperatures and offer better snow and ice traction than summer tires. However, if you live in areas with harsh winter weather you should definitely consider a set of winter tires (also known as “snow tires”). Winter tires have tread patterns specifically designed to dig down and bite into snow and ice. They are made from softer rubber compounds that retain their flexibility in cold weather. This causes the tire to better grip the surface of the road in icy or snowy conditions.

4. Check tire tread depth
According to a recent survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 11% of vehicles in the United States have one or more bald tires. These vehicles are at higher risk for hydroplaning and loss of vehicle control in bad weather, which can lead to accidents, injuries, and even fatalities. We recommend that you check your tire tread twice a year and especially before a long trip.

5. Don’t use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface
Cruise control is designed for normal road conditions. Under slick conditions, you need to be in complete control and constantly monitoring road conditions. With some cars, it is possible that the wheels will actually spin faster when the cruise control is on and the car hits a slippery spot and begins hydroplaning. When the tires finally make contact with firm road again, the car can skid or lose control.

6. Keep your gas tank at least half-full. By doing so, you will not only avoid gas line freeze-up but also lower your risk of running out of gas in case of lengthy traffic delays (like the one experienced on 495 last year!).

7. Accelerate and decelerate slowly
Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Don’t try to get moving in a hurry. And take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on icy roads.

8. Increase following distance
The normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to ten seconds. This increased margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.

9. Don’t power up on snow covered hills
Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads simply gets your wheels spinning. The best approach is to gain a little momentum going before you reach the hill and let that momentum carry you to the top. As you reach the top of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed downhill as slowly as possible.

10. In the event you become snow-bound, stay with your vehicle
Your car will provide temporary shelter and will make it easier for rescuers to locate you. Walking away from it in a blowing storm can cause you to lose sight of your vehicle and become lost. Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna or place a cloth at the top of a rolled up window to signal distress. At night, keep the dome light on if possible. It only uses a small amount of electricity. If possible run the engine and heater just long enough to remove the chill and to conserve gasoline. Hopefully, before your trip, you’ve packed a cell phone, blankets, gloves, hats, food, water, and any needed medication in your vehicle.

By following these holidays driving tips your family should be able to take on the roads and all that holiday driving brings to us this time of year without a hitch.

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