Winter has arrived in Chicago and with that it has come to my attention that some people need a refresher on their winter driving skills.
To that end, Little Merry Sunshine provides you with her Rules of the Road, which are not meant to be a replacement to the Illinois Secretary of State's Rules of the Road, just an addendum and mostly based on common courtesy:
- Spend the extra 5 minutes and scrape off all your windows, the roof of your car, your headlights and tail lights. You can do this while your car warms up and then your reward will be a warm car. Simply turning on the windshield wipers is not enough. It is important to spend this time because you will be able to see other cars on the road better and they will be able to see you easier, especially if you drive a white car. Clearing your roof is important because if you're driving in front of me and 2 feet of snow from the roof of your Hummer flies onto my windshield, I will cause you great pain physically, emotionally, and financially, when I survive the accident I'm sure to get into thanks to your laziness.
- Make sure your windshield wiper fluid is full and then make use of it and your windshield wipers. This will improve your visibility and I recommend re-cleaning your windshield at stoplights as necessary.
- Invest in new wiper blades. I personally love the winter wiper blades. As discussed above, your ability to see what's in front of you is paramount to everyone's safety on the road.
- Turn on your headlights. The rule of thumb (and the law) is that if your wipers are on, your headlights should be on. Headlights not only illuminate the road for you, but more importantly, make it easier for oncoming cars to see you. I always keep mine on during the day.
- Drive the speed limit that is safe for your driving conditions, not necessarily the posted limit. Last night, I was coming home during the first rain/snow storm of the season. Most of the cars were driving a very busy 4-lane unplowed and unsalted road at about 25 mph. This is a road that has anywhere between 35-45 mph posted depending on the part of town. A couple of cars blew past everyone else which made for very unsafe conditions. They were probably only going the posted limit of 45, but the roads were covered in rain/snow/ice/slush and the lane markings were entirely not visible. In their rush to arrive 6 seconds earlier, these drivers put everyone else at risk.
- Take extra precaution in braking and allow more time for it. Do you remember the rules about pumping your brakes (or not if you've got ABS)? Use them.
- Add more distance between you and the car in front of you and never tailgate. This seems so obvious, but evidently isn't. On the same trip home last night, I was being tailgated by a very impatient and rude driver. Tailgating is not only rude, but it is dangerous. If I had needed to stop quickly, this driver would have ended up in my front seat. By adding an extra car length or two (in addition to the normal distance this driver should have kept), we would have been much safer if I had somehow started to slide or if something happened in front of me.
- Keep extra distance at stop lights too. If you are too close at a stop light and you get rear-ended, you will plow into the car in front of you. I was in a chain-reaction read end collision on I-395 one time in Washington DC. Sitting at a complete standstill in bumper-to-bumper traffic, a car 4 cars behind me plowed into someone. That person was pushed into someone, who was pushed into someone and ultimately they all plowed into me. Fortunately, I always leave extra distance between myself and the car in front of me and the accident ended with me because even though my car was pushed forward, I did not hit anything. I had minimal damage and was unhurt. The same can't be said for everyone behind me.
- Keep your cell phone charged, but stay off of it, especially in the worst weather. And invest in a Bluetooth or other hands-free device.
- Use your turn signals. Of course, you know where you are headed, but assume that no one else is reading your mind. The turn signal clues people into what actions you may be taking.
- Change lanes before you need to. This may sound silly, but if you need to get off the Kennedy at Ohio and you're in the far left lane, waiting until you are 10 feet from the exit is not the right time to cross 5 lanes of traffic at 55 mph. Also, if you ever get to drive 55 mph on the Kennedy near Ohio, let me know.
- Check your tires for tread depth and inflation levels. Do they need to be replaced because they have no tread? You can measure the depth of the tread with a coin. If they're below 2/32", you need new tires. Keeping your tired properly inflated can also make you safer and improve your gas mileage.
- Keep your gas tank full. This way you won't risk running out of gas in the middle of the road.
- Pack an emergency kit in your car. I have a flash light, 2 blankets, an extra scarf & hat, 2 granola bars, a bottle of water, hand warmers, an extra pair of wool socks, and some reflective signs for my window that say "call 911." You never know when or where you will need this.
- Do you have AAA? I swear by it because it's saved me multiple times. It's cheap and better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
- Ladies, wear weather appropriate shoes. Our stilettos are sexy, but they're useless and dangerous in this weather. Keep them dry and protected by wearing boots. Your feet will be warmer and should you need to get out of your car for any reason, you'll be much safer.
- Be patient. Road rage won't get you from Point A to Point B any faster and in fact can be deadly.
- All extra time to reach your destination. This will keep your road rage in check, allow you to drive safely, and give you plenty of time to remove all the snow from your car.