No matter if you grew up in the blistering cold of Western New York winters or on the sunny coast of Southern California, driving in snow, sleet, and ice can be dangerous to even for the most experienced fleet driver. Automotive Fleet reached out to one of the experts at AAA, William Van Tassel, Ph.D., to find out the top five winter driving mistakes to keep in mind when traveling down the highways, byways, country roads, and city streets during this wintery season.
Mistake No. 1: Not Adjusting Speed to Conditions
The speed limit is just a start; drivers need to adjust their speed to match their immediate driving conditions. The three factors that should always be considered are visibility, traffic, and traction.
Solution: If visibility is minimized or if the road is wet, snowy, or icy, you should slow down significantly. This will give you more time to respond to any incident, and help prevent a loss-of-traction situation.
Mistake No. 2: Doing More Than One Thing at a Time
Even in clear, dry conditions, it is easy to overload the one tire that ends up being asked to do the most when a driver attempts to do more than one thing at a time, such as steer and brake. In slick conditions, the risk of losing traction is increased greatly when a driver attempts to force the vehicle to do two or more things at once.
Solution: Do one thing at a time — brake, then steer/turn, then accelerate. This will help prevent demanding too much of the tire that takes the brunt of the traction requirements, thereby reducing the chance of a loss-of-traction situation.
Mistake No. 3: Not Looking Far Enough Ahead
Too many drivers only look just ahead of their own vehicles, often missing out on detecting something down the road to which they will need to respond, such as by steering or adjusting their speed.
Solution: Get those eyes up and moving. Work on looking further ahead, and also predicting what other drivers might do that could create trouble. Detecting potential problems ahead as early as possible can make the difference between a collision and a near miss.
Mistake No. 4: Not Maintaining Enough Space
Most drivers fail to maintain enough space between their vehicle and other vehicles around them. Frequently, drivers position themselves too closely to the vehicle ahead. But, maintaining "open" space to the sides is also critical — you may need to move into that space quickly. If you don't have that space, you'll be without an effective option to prevent a crash.
Solution: Back off a bit and lift up on the accelerator to keep an open space to at least one side of the vehicle. Space is your best friend out on the road — to the front, sides, and rear. It's hard to collide with something if you have plenty of space around the vehicle.
Mistake No. 5: Not Giving the Road Your Full Attention
Driving in poor weather requires complete concentration so that you can constantly adjust your speed and position, and detect any potential trouble as early as possible, such as your tires losing traction, or another vehicle pulling out into your path. If you add other tasks to driving, such as using a cell phone, your risk increases dramatically.
Solution: Stay focused on driving. Get there, and then get busy with non-driving activities. Common sense precautions include programming navigation systems and adjusting music selections before driving, and, of course, powering down the cell phone.
William Van Tassel, Ph.D., is manager of driver training operation at AAA. He is a member of the National Driver Education and Training Administrative Standards Core Development Team, the Association of National Stakeholders in Traffic Safety Education, and is on the Committee on Operator Education and Regulation of the Transportation Research Board.