Bellingham's recent cold snap should change the way you drive

There's a sign outside the new Melvyn brewery on Meridian Avenue that reads "Winter is Coming". But recent temperatures sure make it feel like winter is already here. While it's time to consider draining and storing garden hoses and checking gutters for fall's leaves, it's also time to think about cold weather driving. Icy roads can lead to an uptick in car accidents, and as a personal injury law firm in Bellingham, we hear about them on a regular basis. As my blog readers now, 94% of car accidents are due to human error, a shocking statistic but actually one with a silver lining. This means that there is a lot we can do to drive safer and prevent becoming a statistic and needing to call Bill Coats Law. 

Be prepared for freezing rain and icy driving conditions, some of which we've already seen so far in early November. However, any winter drive should trigger the defensive driver to give himself more time, more space, and less acceleration. You probably know how differently you will drive if you feel rushed and anxious about being late. You'll probably feel the need to want to drive faster, make all the green lights, and get away from slower drivers. None of these ideas translate to safe driving especially if there's a chance you'll hit a patch of snow or ice. Black ice is hard to spot and can be deadly, or cause a car to careen off a cliff as happened just a day ago. Luckily the SUV's passengers were not more injured that this 250-foot drop could have meant.

Driving in the snow and ice? You might, especially if you're heading up to Mount Baker. Take a nod from these snow-driving tips from AAA:

  • 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.
  • Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping, turning – nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly.
  • 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.
  • Know your brakes. Whether you have antilock brakes or not, the best way to stop is threshold breaking. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.
  • Don’t stop if you can avoid it. There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it.
  • Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed down hill as slowly as possible.
  • Don’t stop going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.
  • If you start to slide, TURN INTO THE SLIDE. You don't want to fight against where your back wheels are sliding, because that will cause the car to fishrail or rollover. 
  • Stay home. If you really don’t have to go out, don’t. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can. Don’t tempt fate: If you don’t have somewhere you have to be, watch the snow from indoors.

While you're here, take a look at this post on what to have in your car for winter drives

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