Staying Safe on Texas Roads This Winter
Texas may not become a “winter wonderland” of sorts, but driving through the state during the wintertime can still be dangerous.
Texas has over 80,000 miles of maintained roads and highways, which makes driving a great mode of transportation when trying to get to grandma’s house, holiday parties, tailgates and everywhere in between, but all that time on the road this winter can come with its own Texas-sized dose of hazards.
According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDoT), there were 746 fatal crashes on Texas roads between December 2014 and February 2015. Of those crashes, 441 were on an interstate or U.S. and state highways.
Although you cannot control every aspect of your trip, these are the most popular winter hazards on Texas roads. You’ll also learn how to prepare for them and what to do if you find yourself in danger.
Sleet and snow
According to the TxDoT, sleet and hail contributed to 1,030 total crashes in 2015, while snow contributed to 977 crashes. While they recommend that everyone stay off the roads during winter weather, they understand there are circumstances when you may have to venture out or may be stuck in it while it’s happening.
If this is the case, the TXDOT recommends accelerating slowly, increasing your following distance by at least three times, and braking gently in slow, steady strokes. Approach bridges, shaded spots and turns slowly, and keep in mind that speed limits are posted for normal driving conditions, so don’t be concerned about reaching the limit. If you’re traveling long distances on icy roads, remember to never use cruise control.
Almost everyone has heard about one of the biggest dangers involving vehicles and icy road conditions, and it’s called black ice. Fishtailing and sliding is usually a sign that you are going too fast for the conditions and need to slow down. If you’re caught off guard by a slide, doing the following may help you regain control:
- Release your brakes
- Antilock brakes do not work well on ice and often lock up your wheels regardless.
- Turn into the slide
- Turn your wheels in the direction that the rear of your car is sliding. Look where you want your car to go and turn the steering wheel in that direction. It is easy to steer too far, though, which will cause the car to slide in the other direction. If this happens, you’ll need to turn in the opposite direction until you’ve corrected or come to a stop.
Although not as common, Texas does see some rain during the winter months, and since rain contributed to 16,818 crashes in 2015, it’s important to learn how to properly handle your car during a downpour.
The Texas Department of Insurance recommends driving toward the middle lanes if there is more than one since water tends to pool in outside lanes. If you can, avoid using your brakes. Try taking your foot off the accelerator to slow down. Don’t forget the common phrase “Turn around, don’t drown.” If you can’t tell how deep the water is, it’s best to just turn around and find a different route to avoid getting stuck or swept away.
Just like black ice is a threat caused by icy road conditions, hydroplaning is a threat caused by wet road conditions. If you find yourself hydroplaning or skidding, do not brake or turn your wheel suddenly. Ease your foot off the gas until the vehicle slows and you can feel traction on the road again and turn your steering wheel in the direction of the skid. As you recover control, gently straighten the wheels and brake gently if you need to do so.
Bald and low tires
Bald tires are dangerous in any season, but cold, icy and wet conditions only make bald tires more dangerous. Place a penny upside down between the tread, and as the saying goes, if you can see Lincoln’s head, there’s not enough tread.
Winter can be dangerous for your tires’ air pressure as well. For every 40 degrees the temperature drops below normal, your tires lose a pound of air pressure. While most cars come equipped with sensors that gauge your tire pressure, it’s safe to check your air pressure manually and add air if needed every month.
Long trips without an emergency kit
Before you leave for your trip, make arrangements to have your car serviced. Regular maintenance such as tune-ups, oil changes, battery checks and tire rotations can go a long way toward preventing breakdowns.
Even a well-maintained vehicle can break down, so packing an emergency roadside kit or purchasing one already assembled can come in handy if you have any car troubles during your trip. Some handy items to pack include the following:
- First-aid kit
- Jumper cables
- Tire pressure gauge
- Jack for changing a tire
- Nonperishable food, drinking water and medicine
- Extra windshield washer fluid
- Emergency blankets
Many people “drink and be merry” during the holiday season, and although you may abide by the law and get a ride home if you’ve been drinking, not everyone on the road is as responsible. During the 2014-2015 holiday season (Dec. 1, 2014 to Jan. 1, 2015), there were 2,411 alcohol-related traffic crashes in Texas, resulting in 190 serious injuries and 110 fatalities.
While the Texas Department of Public Safety increases DWI enforcement during the holidays, they can’t be everywhere at once; therefore, you might find yourself sharing the road with someone who shouldn’t be driving. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, these are some of the biggest telltale signs of an intoxicated driver:
- Quick acceleration or deceleration
- Weaving or zigzagging across the road
- Driving anywhere other than on a road designated for vehicles
- Almost striking an object, curb or vehicle
- Stopping without cause or erratic braking
- Drifting in and out of traffic lanes
- Signaling that is inconsistent with driving actions
- Slow response to traffic signals (e.g. sudden stop or delayed start)
- Straddling the center lane marker
- Driving with headlights off at night
- Driving slower than 10 mph below the speed limit
- Turning abruptly or illegally
- Driving into opposing traffic on the wrong side of the road
If you suspect someone you’re sharing the road with is intoxicated, stay as far away from the other vehicle as possible and do not try to pass or signal the driver to pull over. Take notice of the license plate number and details of the vehicle, including make, model and color, then pull over to call 911. Give the operator the exact location of the vehicle, including the name of the road or cross streets and the direction the vehicle is traveling. Also give the operator a complete description of the vehicle and the manner in which it is being driven.
Adhering to these simple precautions can help keep you, your family and others safe on the road this winter so everyone can enjoy the holidays.
No matter the season, driving while drowsy is one of the most preventable driving hazards. Learn how a little preparation can put drowsy driving to rest.