Winter driving is an art form that we like to pride ourselves on here in Minnesota, because it’s a skill that combines technical knowledge and experience with the ability to “read” a snow drift, feel the road through your tires, and sense when things are slipping out of your control. It also requires a certain acceptance of the fact that winter driving will most likely result in an accident or an incident of some kind during your lifetime.
The web is filled with safe winter driving advice, much of which is focused on the same handful of suggestions about safe following distance, not bundling your kids in car seats up, and making sure you have a kit in your car should be become stranded. This is all good advice, but there are some very simple and important winter driving accident avoidance tips for the experienced and expert Minnesota driver, that we like to share with everyone so that you can avoid that claims conversation with your agent, or at least make it a minor one instead of a conversation about totaling your car.
Remember that the most important rule is avoidance…..it really doesn’t matter if you were right and not at fault……or if you had a good excuse and no one could expect you to avoid the situation……a collision is still going to be a costly, time consuming, frustrating, and possibly painful experience.
1) Turn on your headlights. Always, doesn’t matter what time of the day. State law requires it whenever your windshield wipers are running; however I recommend it whenever it’s more than 50% cloudy. A significant portion of accidents start with a statement by one driver to the effect of “I didn’t see them”. Headlights will help to make sure you’re seen. By extension, wash your car frequently in the winter. It keeps the rust away, but it also helps to increase visibility by removing the coating of road slush and salt that gives your car a matte finish rather than a shiny one.
2) Watch out for pedestrians. It’s dark out by the time most people get home from work and get their dog out for a walk, and it’s dusk as many kids are heading home for dinner from school, sports, and friends’ houses. Make sure to keep an eye out on both sides of the road for pedestrians, especially in neighborhoods where there are not sidewalks. Pedestrians should be walking against traffic in these situations so be watchful on both sides of the road and remember that even at the speed limit you are probably out-driving your headlights.
3) Go for the ditch! Most people try and keep a safe following distance but it doesn’t always work out that way, either the guy behind us was a little too close, or we misjudged road conditions between us and the guy in front of us. Knowing this, job one is to stay always aware of what is happening ahead and behind us, so that you can react. One of the most frequent observations made in rear end accidents is that at least one vehicle, and maybe more, had the opportunity to get out of the way…..usually by choosing to drive into the ditch. This is a great option to keep in mind depending on the road ditch available, as it usually results in less damage and fewer injuries than a collision.
4) Four wheel drive doesn’t help you stop. Four wheel and all-wheel drive cars and trucks are great fun in the winter because they offer immediate traction in most situations allowing you to get up to speed quickly without sliding around, and give you some additional control over your vehicle. This is great, and I love my four wheel drive. However when it comes to stopping the four wheel or all-wheel drive cannot help you, so temper your feeling of control with a touch of caution when choosing how fast to drive when its snowy out.
5) Clear your car off before you drive! If you had the misfortune to park outside while it snowed, or like me to park outside all the time, you will have found your car buried in a snow drift at some point in time. While it may be tempting to clear the glass surfaces and go, and aside from it being inconsiderate to other drivers, it decreases your visibility to other drivers significantly, and it increases the chance that the snow will cause you or someone around you to lose visibility entirely and cause an accident. Some states are starting to mandate and penalize for not clearing, mostly because after the snow freezes, it can become a flying sheet of sharp ice that can cause significant injury, and leave you liable for the injuries or damage that result.
6) When in doubt replace the tires! We’ve all gotten through the summer on a set of tires that was fast approaching, or possibly surpassing, their useful life. The concept of trying to get through the winter on an old set of tires, though, is a recipe for disaster. Your tires are the first and best line of defense in the winter for everything from stopping to steering, and the older they are the less traction they will get whether you are trying to get going, stop, or turn. If the old tires aren’t quite old enough to get rid of, have the shop throw them in the trunk when they put the new one’s on your car…..you can bring them back in the spring and have them put back on to get that last little bit of wear…..or you know, the summer…..out of them. If you do end up wrecking the car, the new tires will help to increase the settlement you get for the vehicle.
7) Truck went through the ice? Nope you’re not covered for that! Every year, dozens of people inquire about coverage for their truck falling through the ice, and an unlucky few get to make that call when it happens to them. The reality is the same; there is no coverage for a vehicle that goes through the ice. That means that you will be responsible for any fines you incur from the DNR and EPA, as well as the cost of recovering it, scrapping it, paying the loan off, and replacing it.
This post was written by Aaron Nicklay, Agent with Farmer’s Insurance. For more information on this topic and more and how Aaron can help protect you or your business, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (952) 229-5155.