AAA Mid-Atlantic: Small Amounts of Snow and Ice Can Cause Big Problems on Roads

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With the region having seen its first measurable snow this season, and more wintry weather expected later this week, Jana Tidwell of AAA Mid-Atlantic says even small amounts of snow and ice can cause big problems on the roadway. on average, about one-third or 32% of crashes during the winter occur in adverse weather or road surface conditions, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. AAA Mid-Atlantic advises drivers to adjust their speed accordingly.  Last winter, which was mild in the Mid-Atlantic region, AAA Emergency Roadside Service crews assisted more than 790,000 motorists, with nearly 22,000 across Delaware alone. In the winter months, the most common problems are dead batteries, extractions, towing and flat tires. 

Additional Information from AAA Mid-Atlantic:

With the region seeing its first measurable snow in sometime, and more wintry weather expected later this week, AAA Mid-Atlantic is urging drivers to be prepared if they have to be on the roadways.

 “For those who must drive, please adjust your speed accordingly,” said Jana Tidwell, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s spokesperson. “Our state highway crews are working hard to clear the roadways and keep us all safe, but it is incumbent upon drivers to reduce their speeds if they must go out.”

The sudden onset of dangerously cold weather often leads to a spike in AAA Emergency Roadside Service calls, especially for dead batteries. At the same time, snow can make roadways slick, increasing the potential for drivers to lose control of their vehicles.

Nationwide, AAA handles an average of 600,000 emergency roadside assistance calls per week in the winter with the most common problems being dead batteries, extractions, towing and flat tires.

Last winter, which was mild in our region, AAA Emergency Roadside Service crews assisted more than 790,000 motorists, with nearly 22,000 across Delaware alone.

On average, about one-third (32%) of crashes during the winter occur in adverse weather or road surface conditions, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

“Even small amounts of snow and ice can cause big problems on the roadway,” said Tidwell. “If you must go out, buckle up, reduce your speed and avoid distractions.  Make sure to clear all of the snow off the vehicle before pulling out.”

AAA advises to be cautious when driving snowy and icy conditions and offers the following safety tips:

  • Stay home. If you really don’t have to go out, don’t. Even if you can drive well in winter conditions, not everyone else can. Don’t tempt fate. Stay home until crews can properly clear roadways.
  • Check road conditions. Before you leave, assess the conditions of roads along your route. 
  • Slow down. Adjust your speed to the road conditions and leave yourself ample room to stop. Allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you. Accelerate, turn and brake gradually.  Don’t brake and turn at the same time. Asking the car to do two things at once makes it more likely your tires will lose traction.
  • Never use cruise control on slippery roads. A driver should always be in full control of their vehicle during poor road conditions and cruise control can misinterpret slipping and sliding as the vehicle slowing down and attempt to accelerate to maintain speed.
  • Avoid unnecessary lane changes. This increases the chances of hitting a patch of ice between lanes that could cause loss of vehicle traction. Drive in plowed lanes. If that’s not available, drive in the tire tracks of vehicles in front of you. 
  • Know your brakes –Whether you have antilock brakes or not, keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.
  • Control the skid – Slamming on the brakes can make the skid even worse. If you are approaching a patch of ice, brake during your approach. Applying pressure to your brakes while on the ice will only throw you into a skid. If you do start to skid, ease off of the accelerator or brake and steer in the direction you want the front of the car to go.
  • Don’t follow behind other vehicles as closely as you would when driving in clear, dry conditions – Your vehicle cannot slow down as quickly on slick roads. Increase following distances to 8 seconds or more and always keep open space to at least one side of your vehicle, in case you need make an emergency lane change maneuver.
  • Don’t be rough with your steering, acceleration and braking – If you are not gentle with steering, acceleration and braking, your vehicle’s balance can be negatively affected, increasing the chance of experiencing a skid. Always steer, accelerate and brake smoothly.
  • Don’t stop if you can avoid it –There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it. Be aware of traffic ahead and slow down even more if you start to see brake lights or fish tailing cars.
  • Do not power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads may only result in spinning your wheels. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed downhill as slowly as possible.  Don’t stop on a hill as you may not be able to get the vehicle moving again.

What to do in a winter emergency:

  • Stay with your vehicle. It provides temporary shelter and makes it easier for rescuers to locate you.
  • Do not try to walk in a severe storm. It is easy to lose sight of your vehicle and get lost in blowing snow.
  • Do not overexert yourself trying to dig or push your vehicle out of the snow. Keep sand, kitty litter or traction mats in your vehicle to help the vehicle’s tires gain traction on ice and snow. Even a vehicle’s floor mats can help in a jam.
  • Place a cloth at the top of a rolled up window or tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna or to signal distress.
  • Make sure the exhaust pipe is not clogged with snow, ice or mud. A blocked exhaust pipe could cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to leak into the vehicle when the engine is running.
  • If possible, run the engine and heater just long enough to remove the chill and to conserve gasoline.

Staying Safe if Stranded

Whether you have a long commute to work or just need to drive a short distance to the store, preparation is key to staying safe should a vehicle breakdown happen in extremely cold temperatures.  

“It’s important to remember that as the roads may be clearer as the day progresses, plummeting temperatures this evening will increase the chances of roads re-icing, so please exercise caution on your commute home, as well,” Tidwell added.

Drivers are advised to prepare a winter emergency kit and stow it in the trunk or cargo area of their vehicle to have it immediately available should the need arise. According to AAA, more than 40% of motorists do not carry an emergency kit in their vehicle.

The emergency kit should include:snowhappens.png

  • Fully charged mobile phone (pre-programmed with the AAA Mobile App or other rescue apps and important phone numbers including family and emergency services), and car charger or extra battery pack
  • First-aid kit
  • Bottled water
  • Non-perishable snacks for both human and pet passengers
  • Blankets
  • Extra warm clothing (coat, gloves, hats, scarves)
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Bag of abrasive material for traction (e.g. sand, salt, coarse cat litter)
  • Snow shovel
  • Ice scraper with brush
  • Jumper cables and or portable jump-starter pack
  • Warning devices (flares or triangles)
  • Basic toolkit (screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench)
  • Extra winter-blend windshield washer fluid

Many of the winter emergency items listed above – plus pre-assembled multi-item kits – are available, at a discount to AAA members in the online store at AAA.com. Some emergency kits may also be available at local AAA retail locations.

More details are available in AAA’s resource, “How to Go on Ice and Snow,” found at https://exchange.aaa.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/AAA-How-to-Go-Ice-Snow.pdf.


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