Be prepared to do battle with winter on the road


January 15, 2002|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THE COMBINATION of a few drops of rain and a frigid landscape triggered nearly 150 highway accidents during a single morning rush hour last week in Howard County as cars and trucks spun, flipped and collided on black ice. The trouble offered a compelling reminder that treacherous weather is always lurking just around the corner.

Beyond cursing the weatherman, there is a lot you can do to protect yourself against joining the ranks of winter's traffic victims. Here are some rules that could save your life some snowy morning:

If your car is due for regular service, don't wait to do it until after you have been stranded in bad weather and trapped in your stalled vehicle waiting hours for road service. Bad hoses, belts, water pumps, spark plug wires and distributor caps can be your worst enemy when you need to get to that important meeting in bad weather.

Check the condition of your tires and install good winter tires if you want to be safe. Although all-weather radials are usually adequate for most winter conditions, many in this area seem to adopt the ostrich's head-in-the-sand approach to winter preparedness and ignore the importance of tires for winter traction.

Be sure to check your cooling system. Cars can overheat in winter, too, if they run low on coolant. And overheating can cause expensive engine damage. And with no coolant - or low coolant - you'll be getting little or no heat in the passenger compartment.

Be prepared to be trapped in a snowstorm or stalled on the side of the road. That means bringing along items such as flashlights with extra batteries; a first-aid kit with pocket knife; necessary medications; several blankets; extra newspapers for insulation; plastic bags (for sanitation); extra mittens, socks and wool caps; rain gear and extra clothes; a small sack of sand for generating traction under wheels; a small shovel; booster cables; a set of tire chains or traction mats; books or games; a brightly colored cloth to use as a flag; canned fruit or nuts; a manual can opener; and bottled water.

Give yourself every chance to see trouble coming by clearing snow and ice from all glass surfaces of your car, including mirrors and lights. The experts at the Federal Emergency Management Administration note the obvious: You need more, not less, visibility when the weather is bad and road conditions are poor. To make that chore easier, be sure to carry an ice scraper and brush.

And don't forget to push the snow off the roof of your car to avoid heart-stopping avalanche over the windshield when you touch the brakes in traffic.

When driving in the snow or on ice, slow down! Even if you are able to maintain control of your car, someone else may not. And your control may not be all that it seems. FEMA maintains that in the snow, your tires are just barely grabbing the road, and the agency recommend accelerating slowly and gently, turning slowly and gently and braking slowly and gently. It also recommends leaving plenty of distance between you and other cars.

Buckle up

You can die if they don't do it. ... Put on their seatbelts, that is. Too often, I've seen unbelted adults in back seats. Worse - I've also seen unrestrained children in back seats, defying both common sense and the law. So if you won't insist for their sakes, insist for yours.

A study published in the Jan. 3 issue of The Lancet estimates that about 80 percent of deaths of front-seat car passengers could have been prevented if rear-seat passengers had worn seatbelts.

In the five-year study, Masao Ichikawa and colleagues from the University of Tokyo, Japan, compared the risk of death and severe injury to front-seat occupants in car crashes with belted and unbelted rear-seat passengers. After examining almost 100,000 crashes in which the front-seat occupants were belted and there were at least two rear-seat passengers, the researchers determined that having unbelted rear-seat passengers raised the risk of death for front-seat occupants nearly fivefold.

What's your driving dilemma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at Technophobes can mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 5570 Sterrett Place, Suite 300, Columbia 21044, or fax 410-715-2816.

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