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By: Andrea Moyerimage of car in snow

When I was a school bus driver, driving in wintry weather, while far from pleasant, wasn’t actually as bad as driving in my own car.  The bus mechanics often started our buses for us and when we got in and were ready to leave the lot, our vehicles were nice and toasty.  The weight of the buses worked in our favor on slick roads.  Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, we drivers were trained to check the tread on our tires so that we could forestall any problems.

I have to confess, I’d never been in the habit of checking the tread depth of my vehicle’s tires before I became a bus driver.  I did not know that they ought to measure no less than 8/32 of an inch, but they do!  It is important to check the tire tread regularly.  It is also important to check your vehicle’s tire pressure.  A properly inflated tire will help guarantee better traction in wet, snowy conditions. Check your vehicle’s manual and keep your tires inflated at the recommended pressure.

I dislike bringing up unpleasant memories, but we can learn from some of them, so here goes.  We all remember the freak snowstorm that hit the northeast last March, right?  In the midst and through the worst of that snowstorm, I was driving a school bus.  I had forty junior high students clambering up onto the bus as I watched the snow turn to ice.  I turned to them and said, “Guys, we’ve got a real humdinger of a storm outside, so I’m going to need your cooperation.  I need you to keep the noise down to a dull roar so I can concentrate on getting everyone home safely, OK?”

They did.  In fact, I’ve never known them to be so quiet. 

I’m thankful to say that we all made it home and there were no accidents, but I did get stuck.  While I’m sure you’re agog to learn how I managed to extricate myself from the danger of rolling backwards down a hill in school bus, I’ll save that for another volume.  Let’s just say that it involved a lot of to-ing and fro-ing until I could get enough traction to move forward again.  Even with all of the advantages that I’ve listed – the weight of the bus, the excellent mechanics and the correct tire tread depth, there were one or two awful moments when I wondered if I was going to have to spend the night on that hill.

Here are a few tips that will hopefully spare you any similar adventures:

Preparation is Key

  • Check tire depth and pressure (I know I’ve mentioned it, but it bears repeating.)
  • Consider installing snow tires on all four of your vehicle’s wheels.
  • Brake slowly and steadily before turns.  Don’t slam on your brakes.
  • Wait until your steering wheel is straight before accelerating while turning.

If you get stuck

Don’t spin your wheels.  This will dig you in deeper. You need traction and, if possible, you can use the floor mats in your car. Take them and place them under the back edge of your drive tires and then slowly reverse out, staying in the track you created going in.

Keep these necessities in your car

  • Snow shovel
  • Sand, cat litter, salt, or gravel
  • Tire chains (very important if you live either in a snow belt or in southeastern Pennsylvania)
  • Water
  • Blankets
  • Rain tarp
  • Jumper cables
  • Towrope
  • Tool kit
  • Wheel wrench and jack
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Compass
  • Flares
  • Ice scraper
  • Matches
  • High-energy foods like granola bars, nuts, and dried fruit
  • First aid kit
  • DC phone charger for your particular mobile phone

Take Your Time!

Allow extra travel time and remember that driving in wet, snowy or even icy conditions is a bit trickier than driving in clear, dry weather.  You may disagree, but I’m convinced that after you’ve swerved and slid into a snow bank a few times, you might be persuaded to change your mind.  I’m being facetious, of course, but it staggers me when I see otherwise sane-looking drivers trying to achieve the impossible in a snowstorm. 

If you don’t have a bus mechanic handy – and you may be one of those folks who doesn’t – I hope these tips will help you out.  Be safe this winter!

Also Read: Car Safety: How Do Anti Lock Brakes Keep You Safe?

Posted 2:34 PM

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