Recent multiple-vehicle pileups amid this year’s brutal weather have underscored the dangers of driving in winter conditions. In 28 hours last week, from early Thursday to Friday morning, the Iowa State Patrol received calls for help at 195 crashes. In Texas, six people were killed and dozens were hospitalized on Thursday in a pileup that involved more than 100 vehicles on Interstate 35.
In both states, the authorities had issued warnings about hazardous driving conditions. Drivers in Texas were confronted with slick roads and patches of ice. An Arctic front that sped across Iowa enveloped vehicles in a wintry mess of freezing rain, snow and ice.
Experts offer these tips on driving safely in winter weather:
Heed travel advisories, and avoid driving in inclement weather if at all possible.
If a driver sees a string of cars and trucks ahead crashing into each other like dominoes, Steve Gent, a traffic safety director in Iowa, has two recommendations. First, tap your brakes. Then, maneuver to avoid. “Take the ditch,” Mr. Gent said. “The worst thing you want to do is slow down and get in the pileup. We design those ditches so you can drive in, and you are not going to flip over.”
Drivers should avoid roadways that do not give them an out, said Will Miller, an analyst with Crash Analysis Consulting in Southlake, Texas. Avoid highways that have barrier walls on both sides, and beware bridges, overpasses and other elevated structures. They freeze more quickly and stay frozen longer than the road.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises drivers to double-check that they understand how their vehicle’s equipment, such as anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control, will perform in wintry conditions. Experts generally advise against using cruise control when ice or snow patches could crop up.
Andrew Gross, a spokesman for AAA, advised drivers to ensure at least “three seconds of distance between you and the car ahead of you.” That means you should be able to count at least three seconds between when the car ahead of you passes a landmark and when your car passes the same point. Slamming on brakes in ice, snow or rain should be avoided because it can lead to hydroplaning.
Christine Hauser is a reporter, covering national and foreign news. Her previous jobs in the newsroom include stints in Business covering financial markets and on the Metro Desk in the police bureau. More about Christine Hauser