Black Friday Brings Black Weather – Use Caution (Pt I)

Black Friday brought us some black weather this year, with sleet and freezing rain making walkways and roads slippery.  This is not unexpected in New England, of course, but it serves as a useful reminder and warning of what to expect over the next several months.  Slippery surfaces bring the potential for mayhem and accidents.  It is time to think ahead and prepare for the snow, slush, and other precipitation that makes living in New Hampshire in the winter such a challenge.

For most people, the biggest worry in the winter is commuting.  Driving a car that is floating along on top of snow, slush, or even ice, can be nerve-wracking for even the most skilled and experienced drivers.  Without a doubt the single best investment you can make for winter safety is a set of high quality snow tires.  If you haven’t driven on modern snow tires, you really cannot appreciate what you are missing in the winter.  It is important to remember that every action you take behind the wheel is transmitted to the road through those four small contact patches where your tires meet the road surface.  Bad tires lead to a poor connection with the road.

Snow tires are really not “too expensive.”  When you consider that a good quality set of snow tires will last four, five, or possibly more winter seasons, they are really the cheapest form of insurance you can purchase to keep yourself and your loved ones safe in the winter.  Even if you decide not to buy dedicated snow tires, you absolutely should not drive on wintery roads with worn out tires of any sort.  The law requires that your tires have a minimum of 3/32 of an inch of tread.  That really is not enough for winter driving.  You want as much tread depth as you possibly can have so that your tires can find purchase in snow, and cut through slush.  In addition to putting you and your vehicle at risk, having badly worn tires could expose you to liability in the event you injure someone else an accident caused by loss of grip in the winter.

Even with snow tires (and especially without), winter driving requires a more delicate touch than driving the rest of the year.  You should steer, brake, and accelerate more gently, plan further ahead for stops, slow down earlier for corners, and leave much more room to the traffic ahead of you.  Often times on multi-lane highways, a relatively “dry” line will be created in one lane as the majority of traffic tries to take advantage of the tracks cut in the snow by preceding vehicles.  Obviously these “dry” lines have more traction, and are therefore somewhat safer to drive on.  However, in some weather conditions these paths can still be deceptively slippery, so one should not give into the temptation to follow the car ahead too closely.

Four wheel drive and all wheel drive are a great advantage in the winter, but they do not make you invincible.  The primary advantage that these systems give you is the ability to accelerate in slippery conditions.  They are generally also slightly more stable at speed.  However, AWD does not “create” traction.  AWD drive cars just make somewhat better use of the traction available when accelerating.  When it comes to turning and braking, you are still limited by the amount of traction your tires can provide.  AWD combined with poor tires is a recipe for disaster, because the AWD allows you to accelerate despite the lower grip of worn tires, but the tires’ limitations often reveal themselves suddenly when the driver is forced to stop or turn.  Just because you have AWD does not mean you should not invest in a good set of snow tires.

That’s it for Part I of the winter caution tips blog.  Part II will deal with precautions you should take for walking in the winter, and making your property safe for others to walk on.

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