8 ways to avoid a winter pileup
(Photo: Oregon DOT)
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Just last week, white out conditions on a freeway near Detroit caused a 30-car pileup that killed three and injured 20. People who weren't expecting anything—some of them creeping along at 30 miles per hour—ended up crashing right into the confused jumble of wrecked cars, jackknifed trucks, and spilled chemicals ahead.
The point is, you never know when conditions are going to take a turn for the worse, but if they do, here are a few pointers on how to stay out of trouble. Some of these things can come in handy in the summer, too, but winter throws an extra wrench in the works when temperatures plummet.
Hopefully you'll never have to find out what getting in a snowy (or any) pileup feels like. These simple tips can help.
1. Slow down
If conditions get wet, cold, and especially if you can't see well, dial back your speed a few notches. You don't want to be surprised by slow or stopped traffic ahead. Look what happened to all of those unfortunate Michiganders on I-75. But watch your six (that's the rear), too. There may be someone behind you whose reticent voice of reason has them truckin' like it's 80 degrees and sunny.
2. Traction is everything
You control your vehicle with steering, braking, and acceleration. When it gets slick, go easy on the accelerator, but also on the steering wheel and brakes. If you jerk the wheel in wet snow, the car will likely continue to go in a straight line even if the tires are turned all the way to one side. It's the most extreme type of understeer you'll ever experience. Braking, obviously, doesn't work well when the tires don't stick to the ground, so you have to start braking much sooner when the road is slick. Basically, observe tip No. 1 and try to plan your maneuvers in advance.
3. Keep on top of the weather
Most places in the continental U.S. experience cold snaps, at least occasionally, so ice and snow can become a problem faster than you think. Even in Southern California, a sudden onset of heavy rain or fog can cut visibility to nil and surprise motorists who aren't used to driving in bad conditions. It's a good practice to have an idea what the weather is going to be like year round, but it's especially important in winter, when a snow storm can put the kibosh on even a short drive. If you're planning a long trip, check weather reports frequently to make sure your route won't lead you through some impassable tempest.