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Driving in Winter? Tips From Experts on How to Arrive Safely


If a driver sees a string of cars and trucks ahead crashing into each other like dominoes, Mr. Gent has two recommendations.

First, tap your brakes. Then, maneuver to avoid.

“Take the ditch,” Mr. Gent said. “The worst thing you want to do is slow down and get in the pileup. We design those ditches so you can drive in, and you are not going to flip over.”

“Anytime you look at a pileup, the bad crashes are the ones on the roadway,” he said.

In wintry conditions, drivers should avoid roadways that do not give them an out, said Will Miller, an analyst with Crash Analysis Consulting in Southlake, Texas. He said that meant avoiding highways that have barrier walls on both sides, and avoiding elevated structures such as bridges and overpasses when possible, as they freeze more quickly and stay frozen longer than those on the ground.

Mr. Miller said he also advised drivers to reduce speeds and increase following distances.

“These rules are true no matter a driver’s geographical location,” he said. “In Texas, specifically, we lack the infrastructure most Northern states utilize to properly treat the roadways and clear specific weather-related hazards.”

Some features of passenger vehicles can be tricky in winter weather. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises drivers to double-check that they understand how features such as anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control will perform in wintry conditions. Drivers should also slow down, it says.

Some experts generally advise against using cruise control when ice or snow patches could crop up.

“Up here, we are driving on snowy roads a lot, especially on country and back roads,” said Dave Werner, executive secretary of the Traffic Safety Board of Franklin County, N.Y. “You have got a lot of slipperiness, and it changes every hundred feet you go.”

He also said that the places in a roadway where vehicles stop and start, such as stop signs or traffic signals, were usually more slippery than the rest of the road.

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