WASHINGTON, D. C. (Friday, January 29, 2021) –– It is time to dust off the snow-blower and brush up on your winter driving skills. In fact, for drivers, “a light snowfall is just as dangerous as a major snowstorm,” research reveals. That’s surprising to some, yet it is worth remembering for all in the days ahead. With bad intentions on its mind, and in its wings and winds, the largest and most powerful winter storm system in the weather forecast in two years is mercilessly careening from the West Coast into the East Coast and the Mid-Atlantic region this weekend. If the weather forecasts hold true, residents and motorists living in and around the Washington metro area could see some snow-covered roadways as early as Sunday.
It remains to be seen whether the region will be hit by modest total snow accumulations, several inches of snow, or receive heavy snowfall. Road conditions could become hazardous. “Snow, freezing rain and black ice can snarl traffic and delay flights, and can also lead to accidents and traffic fatalities,” warns the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). To prevent such deadly occurrences, area road crews will work overtime to pretreat and then clear major and secondary roadways in Maryland, Virginia, and in the nation’s capital. Driving could prove a daunting task even after snowplows and snow crews work quickly to treat and clear area roadways.
Nearly a quarter of all crashes in the United States were caused by weather conditions. Surprisingly, on roadways, “short-lived snowfall can be equally as dangerous as the big ‘Snowmageddon’ type storms,” researchers warn. Curiously, “only 46% of all snow-related fatalities on roads have a National Weather Service (NWS) advisory or warning,” according to an investigation by a team of scientists at NOAA and the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies (CIMMS).
“Practically, no one forgets how to ride a bicycle, and almost no one forgets how to swim. But it seems some people in the Washington metro area tend to forget how to drive in the snow and on ice, especially during the first major snowstorm of the season. Even small amounts of snow can cause big headaches for motorists venturing out on area roadways,” cautioned John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs.
“With less traffic and fewer drivers on our roads because of coronavirus pandemic, speeding has emerged as a serious problem over the past year, and there have been more fatalities as a result. It is critical that motorists slow down and take extra precautions, as wintry conditions impact the region and its roads.”
Winter storms, bad weather and sloppy road conditions are a factor in more than 2,000 road deaths, and nearly half a million crashes every winter in the United States. That’s according to research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. If you must drive, use extreme caution in areas prone to freezing such as bridges, overpasses, hills, curves, and ramps. It has already been a busy week for AAA, with colder weather increasing the number of calls from members with dead batteries.
“Ahead of the strongest wintry storm of the winter months, we encourage anyone with a car battery more than three years old to get it checked as temperatures drop,” forewarned James Moore, Manager, AAA Car Care Center, Fairfax. “As to venturing out, the best advice is to stay put until snow crews have worked their magic and road conditions improve. If you must drive, do so with caution, slow down, and increase following distances to at least 10 seconds to allow enough margin of safety between you and other drivers.”
“Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” AAA’s Emergency Roadside Assistance network has geared up for cold-weather emergency calls, as motorists are more likely to experience dead car batteries or tire issues when the temperature drops, in addition to the increased risk of slide-offs due to slippery roads.
“It will be all-hands-on-deck at AAA, so that we may respond to distress calls from stranded motorists as quickly and safely and as well as humanly and mechanically possible,” notes Bruce Jenkins, Manager, AAA Roadside Assistance Fleet Depot, Springfield and Richmond. “Last winter, the AAA Emergency Roadside Switchboard responded to nearly 12,000 SOS or rescue calls from distressed drivers in the District of Columbia, and it dispatched our emergency roadside assistance crews to rescue over 130,000 members in Maryland, and nearly 96,000 vehicle owners in Virginia.”
Amid the winter storm, it is imperative for area motorists to slow down and adjust driving behaviors for the conditions, including those driving SUVs and large trucks.
AAA offers the following winter driving tips:
- Plan ahead. If road conditions become treacherous, delay travel to protect your life and limbs, and for safety’s sake give area road crews time to clear or treat roadways and interstate lanes.See and be seen: Remove snow/ice from the hood, roof, truck, lights, windows and mirrors.
- Slow down and give yourself more room: Increase following distance to at least 10 seconds.
- Buckle up: Each and every passenger (including pets) should be properly restrained.
- Put down the phone: Eliminate all distractions while driving including phones and other electronic devices.
- Drive in cleared lanes. Changing lanes unnecessarily puts you at greater risk of hitting a patch of ice between lanes that may cause you to lose control of the vehicle.
- Stay in your lane: Avoid changing lanes, especially if snow and ice are built up between lanes.
- Accelerate gently: If tires lose grip and start to spin, let off on the accelerator.
- Pay close attention on hills: When approaching a hill observe how other drivers are responding and keep far enough behind the vehicle ahead of you so that you will not have to slow down or stop. Once you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed as slowly as possible.
- Avoid slamming on the brakes: A skid can occur when you apply the brakes so hard that one or more wheels lock. Should a skid occur try to remain calm and steer in the direction you want the vehicle to go.
- Turn off cruise control: Avoid using cruise control when driving in wet or icy conditions.
- Move Over: Remember the “Move Over” law when first responders, waste collection workers and emergency roadside assistance workers are assisting motorists along multi-lane roadways.
Get Your Car Winter Ready
Harsh winter conditions make your vehicle work harder, particularly the charging and starting system, headlights, tires and windshield wipers. AAA recommends that motorists check the following vehicle systems:
- Battery: Clean any corrosion from battery posts and cable connections and wash all surfaces with battery terminal cleaner or a solution of baking soda and water. Have the battery checked by a professional to ensure it is strong enough to face cold weather. AAA members can request a visit from a technician who will test their battery and replace it on-site, if necessary.
- Tires: Examine tires for tread depth, uneven wearing and cupping. Check tire pressures once a month when tires are cold, before driving for any distance.
- Engine: Have any engine drivability problems corrected at a good repair shop. Symptoms like hard starts, rough idling, stalling or diminished power could signal a problem that would be exacerbated by cold weather. Engine hoses and belts should be inspected for wear or cracking.
- Fluids: Important system fluids such as engine coolant/anti-freeze, transmission and brake fluid should be checked and changed at recommended intervals.
- Exhaust: Have your mechanic check the exhaust system for leaks and look for any holes in the trunk and floorboards.
- Brakes: Inspect brakes as recommended in your owner’s manual, or sooner if you notice pulsations, pulling, noises while braking or longer stopping distance. Correct minor brake problems promptly.
- Wipers: Replace worn windshield-wiper blades. Purchase one-piece beam-type or rubber-clad “winter” blades to fight snow and ice build-up. Use cold-weather windshield washer solvent and carry an ice-scraper.
- Lights: Inspect all lights and bulbs and replace burned out bulbs. Clean road grime or clouding from all lenses.
Pack a Vehicle Emergency Kit
Motorists are advised to prepare a winter emergency kit now and stow in the trunk of their vehicle to have it immediately available should the need arise. AAA warns, more than 40 percent of motorists do not carry an emergency kit in their vehicle.
The emergency kit should include:
- Fully charged mobile phone pre-programmed with rescue apps and important phone numbers including family and emergency services, and car charger.
- Bottled water.
- First-aid kit.
- Non-perishable snacks for both human and pet passengers.
- Bag of abrasive material (sand, salt, cat litter) or traction mats.
- Snow shovel.
- Extra warm clothing (coat, gloves, hats, scarves).
- Flashlight with extra batteries.
- Window washer solvent.
- Ice scraper with brush.
- Cloth or roll of paper towels.
- Jumper cables.
- Warning devices (flares or triangles).
- Basic toolkit (screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench).
Many of the winter emergency items listed above – plus pre-assembled multi-item kits including the 73-piece Explorer Road Kit and 66-piece Winter Safety Road Kit – are available, at a discount to AAA members, in the online store at AAA.com.
Ahead of the winter storm, area motorists are also encouraged to make sure AAA memberships are up-to-date to take advantage of roadside assistance. It is important and as simple as going to AAA.com or stopping in at one of the AAA retail stores or Car Care Centers across the greater Washington area, in Virginia and in Maryland.
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AAA provides automotive, travel and insurance services to 60 million members nationwide and nearly 82,000 members in the District of Columbia. AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years. The not-for-profit, fully tax-paying member organization works on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit http://aaa.com