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Winter Driving Tips

A New England winter wouldn’t be the same without freezing rain, icy roads, and heaps of snow. Even though the National Weather Service in Boston predicts warmer-than-average temperatures in late 2019 and early 2020, meteorologists tell The Boston Globe to keep the coats, gloves, scarves, hats, and boots ready for the cold air and precipitation we expect during this time of year.

Cold weather can be a nuisance, but it also can be dangerous. More than a foot of snow fell across southern New England in early March! However, even though the weather service warns drivers about ice storms, blizzards, and high winds, meteorologists do say it can be safe to drive in these frigid months if you prepare for winter driving and exercise caution.

Prepare in Advance

Before snowflakes fall — and the holiday rush begins — is the best time to get your car serviced ahead of winter, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Information Institute (III).

Don’t just have your mechanic check for leaks, worn hoses, and other needed repairs as you would the rest of the year. Focus on these items also:

  1. The battery: Cold weather shortens a battery’s life span. A battery loses about 35 percent of its strength at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and about 60 percent of its strength at 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

  2. The oil filter and oil: Motor oil becomes thicker during cold weather, making it harder to pump through the engine block and putting additional strain on the battery. Ask your mechanic about the type of oil you’re using and if the mechanic recommends a thinner grade.

  3. Your tires: Tires lose about 1 PSI (or pound per square inch) of air pressure a month just from seepage around the edge of the rim and through the tread. Expect the PSI to drop further during a cold snap — about 1 PSI for every 10 degrees in temperature — because the air inside the tire condenses. This could trigger the warning light of your tire pressure monitoring system, if nothing else.

  4. Your wipers: Consider switching to winter wiper blades, which prevent ice and snow from hardening on the wipers, and make sure your wiper fluid contains antifreeze.

Why Improper Loading Leads to Accidents

An improperly loaded commercial truck can lead to a catastrophic accident on the road for many reasons:

  1. Unbalanced loading: When a truck has an unbalanced load, the uneven distribution of weight affects the handling of the vehicle. It is more difficult to properly brake, increasing the risk of a jackknife accident and a rollover accident. Uneven weight also puts uneven stress and wear and tear on various components of the truck, such as the frame, suspension, brakes, or tires. This can cause certain components to fail while the truck is moving.

  2. Overweight loading: Every truck has a maximum amount of cargo that it can haul, known as the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). Truck drivers often stop at weigh stations along the highway to check their vehicles and make sure that they aren’t exceeding their truck’s GVWR. If a truck is overloaded, it can impact the handling and performance of the vehicle, especially on inclines and declines.

  3. Unsecured loading: An unsecured load occurs when cargo is not properly tied down and is allowed to shift during travel. Shifting cargo alters the truck’s or trailer’s center of gravity, making it difficult for a driver to control the truck when its handling characteristics rapidly change. An unsecured load can also fall off a truck, impacting other vehicles on the road or creating obstacles that drivers must swerve to avoid.

  4. Any recalls: Owners don’t often know their vehicle is under an open recall, which you can get repaired at your local dealership for free. Enter your Vehicle Information Number (VIN) into the NHTSA’s online search tool to check whether your vehicle has a critical safety issue.

Staying Safe on the Road

Once cold weather hits, check the forecast before getting behind the wheel, give yourself extra time to reach your destination — and practice these key elements to safe winter driving:

  1. Know how your vehicle handles in slick conditions. Check the manual if you need to refresh your memory on whether, say, the pedals will pulsate when controlling traction. That said, avoid using the cruise control on a slippery surface to keep full control of your vehicle.

  2. Minimize the drain on an electric and hybrid-electric vehicle battery by preheating the passenger compartment before unplugging the battery in the morning. Plug in the vehicle when not in use if the battery has a thermal heating pack.

  3. Charge your cellphone, and keep a charger in the car. Also be sure to pack a snow shovel, ice scraper, broom, jumper cables, flashlight, warning devices (such as flares), blankets, bottled water, and any abrasive material such as kitty litter or sand, in case your tires need extra traction.

  4. Leave more distance than usual between your vehicle and others. On dry pavement, motorcycles and cars need at least 3 seconds to stop completely, so when the roads are icy, give yourself a buffer of about 10 seconds.

  5. Drive slowly. In addition to extra time to stop, turning and accelerating take longer on winter roads. What’s more, roadways and bridges that aren’t exposed to sunlight can be icy or refreeze, even if road crews have been clearing the area.

At Brooks Law, we hope you reach all your destinations safely this winter. But should you need help after a winter driving collision anywhere in Massachusetts, we are here to assist you. Please contact us to schedule a free consultation.

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