Experts urge caution driving in snow

Ricardo Matiz checks the fluids to his car following a snow fall, Jan. 3.
Ricardo Matiz checks the fluids to his car following a snow fall, Jan. 3. (Photo by Jacob deNobel , Carroll County Times)

Following the first snowfall of 2014, Ricardo Matiz was out in the winter weather, adding oil to his car and preparing to drive in the slushy conditions. Matiz said he wanted to make sure everything was safe before heading out and driving the slick roads.

That first snow on Jan. 2, is unlikely to be the county's last. According to the State Highway Administration, Baltimore County averages eight snowstorms a year.

Ragina Cooper-Averella, Public Affairs Manager of AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the first thing motorists should do in preparation for winter weather is check all of their vehicles' fluids.

"You particularly need to watch your antifreeze and windshield wiper fluid," Cooper-Averella said. "You're going to be going through more fluid than normal, and with inclement weather, visibility is particularly important."

In addition to fluids, Cooper-Averella said it is important to have your battery checked before it gets cold.

"When we have these kinds of temperature drops, we see an increase in dead batteries," Cooper-Averella said.

David Resnick, president of Elite Driving School in Reisterstown, said drivers should also make sure they're using either winter or all-weather tires in the snow.

"In addition to that, tire pressure is a big deal," Resnick said. "The cold weather is automatically going to lower your pressure. You should check it as soon as it starts getting cold."

In addition to prepping your car for the bad winter, Cooper-Averella recommends creating an emergency kit for the car. She recommends keeping a blanket, jumper cables, flashlights, road salt, a small shovel, and a charged cell phone for emergencies.

Mechanical maintenance isn't the only thing to keep an eye on in regards to winter weather.

"You want to clear all the snow off of your car, not just from the windows," Cooper-Avarella said. "A lot of people neglect to clean it off of their roof, which is not only dangerous for you, but it's dangerous for other motorists."

A well-prepped car can still be involved in an accident with an unprepared driver behind the wheel. According to the Motor Vehicle Administration, 90 percent of traffic crashes are preventable incidents caused by driver error.

Resnick said the most important thing to remember when driving in bad weather is to drive slowly and brake in advance of any turns.

"When it's icy out, it's one of the few times that you're not going to have a lot of control over the car," Resnick said.

If the car strikes an icy patch, Resnick said the key is to not panic.

"The easiest thing to do if you start to slide is take your foot off the gas and steer in the direction you want to go," Resnick said. "Once the wheels have regained traction, then apply the brakes."

Cooper-Averella said AAA has a simple rule for drivers to avoid collisions in icy conditions.

"One of the most important things is making the decision whether to steer out of a collision or brake," Cooper-Averella said. "We say if you're traveling over 25 miles per hour and you start to slide, we recommend steering over braking because braking could make you lose control of the car."

One thing Resnick said he wishes more people were aware of are the rules regarding stoplights that have lost power.

"If you're driving during a storm, and a stoplight is out, it's a four way stop," Resnick said. "Even if you're driving on the main road, you still have to stop."

Despite mechanical improvements, such as four-wheel drive, Cooper-Averella said the most important factor in safety is still the driver.

"A lot of people have overconfidence where SUV's are concerned," Cooper-Averella said. "They're pretty good for snow, but when it comes to ice, they're the same as any other vehicle. Slippery conditions are slippery conditions."