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Don't Melt Down: 7 Tips for Safe Winter Driving

The chilly months are when families tend to venture out on the roads, and that can mean only one thing: Winter driving.

Antique cars.

Several motor vehicle fatalities take place during the winter months, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Almost 200,000 people sustain injuries in car accidents due to snow, slush and ice, and more than 2,000 people lose their lives in winter-weather accidents each year, says the Federal Highway Administration.

Here's how to stay safe on the roads this winter.

Before You Leave

1. Give your car a thorough check-up. Before you hit the road, ensure that your car is in tip-top shape. That means asking your mechanic to check the usual suspects, such as oil and brake fluid levels, as well as cold weather specifics including:

  • Antifreeze mixture (test it yourself or have the radiator serviced)
  • Replace windshield wiper fluid with a defrost/deicing mixture
  • Test emergency flashers
  • Ensure battery is fully charged
  • Tires should be properly inflated and have at least 6/32-inch-deep tread (or consider snow tires)

2. Stock and stow an emergency kit. Fill a bag with emergency supplies for those just-in-case situations. The Centers for Disease Control recommends including:

  • Cell phone, charger and extra battery
  • Battery-powered radio, flashlight and extra batteries
  • Shovel and ice scraper
  • Tire chains
  • Can of tire sealant/compressed air
  • Blankets, coats, hats and mittens
  • Flares
  • Jumper cables
  • Water and snacks
  • First aid and tool kits
  • Matches and a can (to melt snow)
  • Bag of sand
  • Extra de-icing windshield fluid
  • Extra gas

3. Check the weather and share your trip details. Check the weather reports for all areas along your route to avoid unpleasant surprises. Share your trip plan, including the route you plan to take and an ETA, with family or friends.

On the Road

4. DRIVE SLOWLY. Most winter-weather crashes result from simply driving too fast for the conditions, according to Forbes. No matter what the speed limit signs may say, slow down and take your time, especially when accelerating or decelerating. That means you'll need to anticipate turns and stops well ahead of time. Remember, everything takes longer on ice and snow, so your car will not brake normally. And speaking of braking…

5. Don't slam on the brakes. If you feel your tires start to slip, your first instinct may be slam on the brakes. Resist the urge, as it'll actually reduce traction, causing your car to slip and slide even more. Instead, gently ease off the gas and let the car decelerate. CarTalk suggests imagining there's an egg between your foot and the gas/brake pedals; don't stomp too hard, or you'll break the shell.

6. Give the car in front of you extra room. Normally, you leave three to four seconds of following distance between your car and one in front of you. Increase this to at least eight to 10 seconds in icy, snowy or wet conditions, says Smartmotorist.com.

7. Keep the gas tank at least half-full. Don't let your tank drop below half-full. This helps prevent gas line freeze-ups and provides peace of mind (and a running heater) if you get stuck in traffic or a storm.

Whether you're piling the family in the car to drive a few blocks or embarking on a long-haul road trip across several states, safe winter driving requires an extra bit of planning, prep and care. Following these tips will help you reach your destination safely.

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