Winter is coming and the weather will soon follow to make life difficult for motorists all over. Whether it’s rain, sleet, snow or ice, winter presents all sorts of problems that can cause car wrecks.
No matter how safe you drive, you simply can’t account for everything. But you can do your best to be prepared! Read more about the 3 major causes of winter-weather wrecks and how to avoid them.
Skid and Spinout Wrecks
Winter weather brings all sorts of precipitation that can make the roads slick. If you’re not careful, slick roads can often lead to skids, spinouts and wrecks.
Skids and spinouts often occur when a driver steps on the brakes too hard and turns at the same time or takes a turn too fast. Your front wheels will lock sideways, but your vehicle will keep skidding straight ahead or spin out of control.
There are 2 types of spinouts we’ll address here: front-wheel skids (AKA understeering) and rear-wheel skids (AKA oversteering or fishtailing). If you begin to lose control of your vehicle, it’s critical that you remain calm and don’t jerk the steering wheel. Instead, try to follow these steps if you start spinning out:
How to Recover from a Front-Wheel Skid (Understeer)
If you go to make a turn but your car keeps going straight, you’re in a front-wheel skid. Your tires are turned but don’t have any traction. Follow these steps to help get you out of a front-wheel skid:
- Take your foot off the gas to decelerate. Do not slam on your breaks!
- Turn your steering wheel straight to help the tires gain traction again.
- If your car has anti-lock brakes (ABS)—which all modern cars do—apply steady and firm pressure to the brake pedal. The ABS will pump the brakes for you.
- If your car does not have ABS, rapidly tap (but don’t slam!) the brake pedal until you come to a stop.
How to Recover from a Rear-Wheel Skid (Oversteer or Fishtail)
A rear-wheel skid can result in the rear of the car sliding out in either direction, leading to skidding sideways or a complete 360-degree spin. Rear-wheel skids and fishtailing are far more common with rear-wheel drive cars, but front-wheel drive cars are not immune.
To save yourself from a rear-wheel skid, try to follow these maneuvers:
- Take your foot off the gas to decelerate and do not slam on your brakes (notice a pattern here?).
- Steer gently in the direction of the skid. This might seem counter-intuitive, but if the back end of the car slides out left, steer to the left. If the rear slides out to the right, steer right. Steering against the skid will result in over-correction and you’ll end up skidding back and forth in both directions.
- Gently apply pressure to the gas pedal so the front wheels pull the car the direction you want to go.
- Once you’ve regained control and exited the skid, apply steady and firm pressure to your brake pedal if you feel you need to stop and pull over to recuperate.
When conditions are bad, rear-end wrecks are some of the most common winter-weather collisions. Snow, slush and ice patches reduce your tire traction, and if you need to stop suddenly, you may find your car keeps sliding forward—right into the car in front of you.
Speed is usually a factor here, but that’s not always the case. This writer has personally been involved in a low-speed, 5-car pileup approaching a stop sign on an icy side street. If the roads are too slick, there’s not much you can do. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take precautions, though.
How to Avoid Rear-End Wrecks
Even in ideal driving conditions, you should always keep a safe following distance. The traditional rule of thumb is 1 car length per 10mph. In inclement weather, you’ll want to double that distance (at least) to give you plenty of time if you need to skid to a stop.
Remember, in a rear-end collision, the driver following another is almost always at fault—regardless of weather conditions. You need to give yourself ample room to stop.
If you do find yourself careening into a stopped car, this is definitely the occasion to slam on your brakes no matter the conditions. Don’t try to steer out of the way unless you’ve got a soft and clear landing spot off of the road. If you steer too hard, you could end up in a spinout or even roll your vehicle.
Lane Drifting and Departure Wrecks
Winter weather can severely hamper your visibility while driving. Whether there’s precipitation, fog or snow-covered roads, it can be difficult to see what lane you’re supposed to be traveling in.
If you can’t clearly see what lane you’re in, there’s a risk of drifting into other lanes, especially on turns and slight bends. Drifting is obviously dangerous—not just for you but for the other drivers around you.
Drifting can lead you to clip a car traveling next to you or cause them to swerve to avoid your encroachment. Swerving in bad weather can lead to spinouts and rollovers, which we touched on above.
How to Avoid Lane Drifting and Departure Wrecks
The best way to keep yourself from drifting in bad weather is to be exceedingly vigilant and observant. Be aware of all the cars around you and keep a safe distance from cars ahead and to the side of you. Don’t travel alongside someone any longer than you need to. Either pass them or let them pass you.
When you can’t see the lanes clearly due to snowy roads, try to stay in the tire tracks of the traffic ahead of you. Even if the tracks aren’t squarely in the lane, you want your tires to travel on asphalt as much as possible, not snow.
Be extra extra careful when you need to change lanes on a snowy road. There’s a significant risk of losing control and spinning out as your tires leave the packed tire tracks and start rolling on the slushier stuff between lanes.
General Winter Weather Driving Tips
Aside from avoiding the hazards of winter driving discussed above, you should consider following these other best practices to stay safe:
- Always clear all snow and ice from your vehicle before driving. Clear it from your windshield, mirrors, side windows and rear windows. And don’t forget to clear it from the roof of your car! Snow sheets on the roof can slide down over your windshield or fly off the back onto the car behind you. Neither of those are ideal.
- Accelerate, brake and drive slowly and avoid sudden maneuvers. Hard acceleration and braking is bad for traction, and taking corners too fast can lead to disastrous spinouts and rollovers.
- Get winter tires or snow chains. Winter tires make a huge difference in traction and safety. You can also keep a set of snow chains in your trunk to help you if you get stuck, but you should not drive around on roads with chains on.
- Get winter wiper blades and keep your washer fluid full. Winter wiper blades are sturdier to handle heavy snow, and the hinges are protected so the arms don’t freeze up. You should also keep your washer fluid full and a spare jug in your trunk.
- Regularly check your tire pressure. Cold weather lowers tire pressure by a few psi because the air molecules inside pack tighter together. After some driving, your tires will warm up and your tire pressure should return to normal. Don’t fill your tires without driving around to warm them up first.
- Keep a winter safety kit. In case you get stranded, it’s better to be safe than sorry. At minimum, you should keep a snow brush/ice scraper, jumper cables, hats, gloves, socks, a blanket and a first aid kit.
Hurt in a Weather-Related Wreck?
Lloyd & Lloyd has been fighting for our clients for over 40 years. If you’ve been injured in a winter weather wreck through no fault of your own, we can help you get the justice and compensation you deserve.
Don’t suffer through your injuries and settle for less than you deserve. Fill out a case evaluation form here or call us at 918-246-0200 for a free consultation.