A record-breaking 107.3 million people likely hit the road to celebrate the holidays away from home this year, according to AAA.1 To put that number into perspective, from December 23rd to January 1st, alone, nearly a third of America’s population filled the streets, roads, highways, turnpikes, and expressways to visit family and friends.
Road travel can quickly turn hazardous in the winter—with rain, thunder, sleet, snow, hail, and ice all entering the equation, it’s not surprising that car accidents are common in the winter months. This is especially true around the holiday season when incidents of drinking and driving increase.
Ahead, the expert Houston car accident attorneys at Johnson Garcia LLP offer tips for avoiding a car accident while out on the roads this winter.
Driving Safely in the Rain
Rain is the most likely hazard Texans driving in-state will encounter on the road during winter. Exercise caution while driving in the rain, whether it’s a light shower or a heavy downpour. Follow these tips for driving in the rain:
Before you get on the road:
- Make sure your car is ready for the road: Check your tires to ensure they are properly inflated and have good tread, replace old windshield wipers, and make sure your defroster is working.
- Turn on your headlights in rainy, foggy, or overcast conditions.
- Whenever possible, avoid driving during thunderstorms and heavy rainstorms; sheets of rain can make it extremely difficult to see the road, and flashes of lighting can be disorienting.
While you’re on the road:
- Rule number one: Slow down. If the roads are wet, you should drive at least 5 to 10 miles per hour slower than you’d normally drive. In heavy rain your tires can lose contact with the road at 50 mph or more; this means you’re actually driving on a thin layer of water, or “hydroplaning,” which is extremely dangerous; a sudden gust of wind or a large truck passing by can send your vehicle skidding out of control.
- Avoid hard braking, which can send you skidding across the road. Instead, remove your foot from the accelerator and lightly hit the brakes when you need to stop. To avoid having to hit your brakes hard, don’t tailgate—and slow down.
- Stay in the middle lanes, where water is less likely to pool. This can help you avoid hitting puddles that can send you hydroplaning; watch out for places where water pools, such as under bridges and alongside streams.
- If you come to a flooded road, do not attempt to cross it. If you can’t see the ground underneath the water, turn around and go another way. Six inches of water is all it takes to reach the bottom of most passenger cars; 12 inches of rushing water can carry away a car, and 24 inches of water can carry away trucks and SUVs. Half of all flood-related drowning in the U.S. happen as a result of people driving into hazardous flood waters.2 Even if you do manage to make it across a flooded area with no mishaps, deep water can damage your vehicle’s mechanical and electrical systems. It’s not worth your safety or that of your family members—turn around; don’t drown.
- Don’t use cruise control, which gives you less control of your vehicle.
- Maintain a good distance behind large trucks and buses; the spray created by these vehicles can reduce visibility.
If you start hydroplaning:
Skidding on wet roads can be scary, and it can happen to anyone, even experienced drivers. If you skid, try not to panic, and do the following:
- Avoid slamming on the brakes, which can send your car further out of control.
- Slowly lift your foot off the accelerator until you feel traction on the road again.
- Turn the steering wheel in the direction of the skid—don’t whip the steering wheel around, which could cause you to spin out of control.
- As you recover control of the car, gently straighten the wheel.
- Gently pump the brakes if you have an older car; if you have a car with anti-lock brakes, brake normally (the car’s computer will pump the brakes for you)
Driving in the Snow
While Texas isn’t known for snowstorms, you may find yourself in unexpected snowy or icy conditions while out on the road, whether from a massive winter storm (like the one that grounded planes and closed schools in the Deep South this month3) or while traveling to see family or friends.
Driving in snow can be very unnerving, especially for those who aren’t used to it. Here are tips for doing it safely:
- Slow down. On dry roads, you should keep a distance of 3 to 4 seconds between you and the car in front of you; on snowy/icy roads, give yourself 8 to 10 seconds.
- Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Accelerating too quickly can cause you to skid; so can hitting the brakes too hard in traffic or when approaching a stoplight or stop sign. Keep in mind that it takes longer to slow down on icy roads.
- Stop the car by keeping the heel of your foot on the floor and using the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.
- Avoid stopping when you don’t need to, such as when you’re approaching a stoplight in the distance; instead, come to a slow roll until the traffic light turns green, then gently accelerate. Why do this? It takes a lot of inertia to move from a full stop (especially in snowy/icy conditions) versus continuing to move forward while the car is still rolling.
- Don’t slam on the accelerator while going up hills—this can get your wheels spinning and cause you to skid; instead, try to gain some momentum before you reach the hill and let it carry you to the top. Once you crest the hill, release your foot from the accelerator and descend the hill slowly in second (or first) gear. Don’t stop while going uphill if you can avoid it, as it can be very difficult to start again without spinning your wheels.
Avoiding (and Dealing with) Black Ice
Two words that strike dread in the heart of anyone who routinely drives in freezing conditions: mixed precipitation.
When it rains and the air at ground level is at or below 32 degrees (F), the rain can instantly freeze on contact, generating the much-feared black ice—so named because you can’t see it against the black surface of asphalt. Black ice can easily catch you off guard, and you’re at its mercy until the car passes over it—it’s like a car sliding over a slick, frozen lake.
The key is being aware of black ice, knowing when and where it forms (usually at night or early in the morning on parts of the road without much sunshine, such as tree-lined roads; also, on bridges, overpasses, and the road beneath overpasses), watching the weather reports (especially if driving long distances), and using any tools to your advantage.
One such tool is the built-in thermometer that comes standard in many new cars today. The thermometer displays the ambient temperature of the outside air, usually with a good degree of accuracy. If the thermometer says the air is close to freezing, take extra precautions.
What to do if you hit black ice:
- Don’t panic.
- Let the car glide over the ice—don’t jerk the wheel or slam on the brakes or accelerator.
- Gently take your foot off the accelerator, and, if you can avoid it, don’t hit the brakes, which will cause you to skid.
- If you feel the back end of your car sliding to the left or right, gently turn the steering wheel in the same direction to try to regain control of the car.
- If possible, shift into a lower gear, which will give you more control.
- Steer the car toward areas of the road or the side of the road with more traction, such as sand or dirt patches, snow-covered areas, or textured ice.
- If you hit a very large patch of black ice and continue skidding, you may need to apply the brakes to slow down. If you have an older car, gently pump the brakes; if you have a car with ABS, brake normally, but gently.
- Always steer the car in the direction you want to go; if you end up going off the road, try to avoid a collision by steering into the safest area possible—an empty field, a yard, or even a snow bank; avoid trees, buildings, and other objects if at all possible. If you do have a collision where you or another party is injured, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer.
What to Do if You’re Involved in a Car or Truck Accident
The winter season can be a magical time of year, but accidents happen. If you’ve been involved in a car or truck accident, the attorneys at Johnson Garcia LLP can help. Our expert car wreck lawyers in Houston have decades of combined experience getting justice and compensation for individuals and families injured in accidents.
If we don’t recover for you, you don’t pay a dime—that’s our promise. Call 832-844-6700 today for a free consultation with one of our expert attorneys.