Make It A Safe Winter of Driving in New York

September 30, 2017

It's eye-opening to realize that one in every five road accidents here are due to weather conditions. Most are the result of bad road conditions or poor driving decision-making.

So, as our notorious winter season looms and arrives in New York, it's worth taking the time to think about how you avoid becoming one of the victims.

There are two important things you need to know: How to prepare your car so it's as safe as can be on our roads, and how to drive in the safest possible manner. (Actually, there's a third key point: knowing whether you should drive at all when the weather is bad).

Prepping Your Auto for Winter

Although it seems like commonsense that we should all ensure our cars are in peak condition for New York's winter weather, very few people actually go through the process of running through a formal checklist.

Unless you're car savvy, it's a good idea to have a mechanic check your car. According to New York City's emergency management team, this should include:

  • Battery
  • Antifreeze
  • Windshield wipers and washer fluid
  • Ignition system
  • Thermostat
  • Lights (headlamps and hazard lights)
  • Exhaust system, heater, brakes, defroster
  • Brakes
  • Defroster
  • Oil level (if necessary, replace oil with a winter oil or SAE 10w/30 variety)

Also, check your tire tread and suitability for winter driving. All-weather radials are usually adequate for most winter conditions. However, some jurisdictions require vehicles to be equipped with chains or snow tires with studs. Don't overinflate tires -- they're more susceptible to skids.

An Emergency Supply Kit

It's also a wise idea to put together a kit that you can keep in the car and use if you ever get stranded.

You should already have and store in the car a first aid kit. Make sure it's fully stocked. You should also have a flashlight and extra batteries in the car at all times.

Then, thinking about what to have in your car during winter months, add in other essentials like blankets, extra warm clothing, sand or kitty litter plus a small shovel, to get you moving when stuck in snow or ice. Carry a set of tire chains or traction mats too.

Don’t forget a selection of small tools, a windscreen scraper, a set of booster cables and some type of warning signs for other drivers -- a brightly colored cloth will work but reflective triangles are better.

You should also have food -- preferably some type of high-energy protein candy bars.

To Drive or not to Drive?

The most important rule when the weather seriously affects road and traffic conditions is not to drive unless you have to.

Of course, that may be easier said than done, especially if you're commuting in winter months.

In that case, it's important to understand the difference between different types of weather warnings.

The most severe of these is a Winter Storm Watch, which is issued by the National Weather Service and usually broadcast by local radio and TV, as well as through online bulletins.

It's usually issued 24 to 36 hours in advance -- enough time to try to make alternative arrangements and avoid driving.

Slightly lower down the scale is a Winter Weather Advisory , which forecasts a threatening combination of snow, freezing rain and sleet.

The National Weather Service also issues a Frost/Freeze Warning when temperatures are expected to stay below freezing for an extended period.

Heavy Snow means more than four inches in 12 hours or less.

If you must drive during hazardous conditions, always make sure someone knows where you're headed.

Driving Safely

State transportation and weather experts say the leading cause of death and injuries during New York winter storms are road accidents.

Their recommended safe winter driving tips emphasize the importance of:

  • Not driving during winter storms
  • Keeping your car clear of ice and snow to ensure good visibility
  • Keeping more distance between cars
  • Being on the alert for kids, who can be hidden by snowdrifts
  • Allowing extra time for your journey and driving more slowly
  • Switching on headlights
  • Braking slowly
  • Not following too closely behind a snowplow. Ideally don’t pass but, if you have to, use extreme caution, allowing plenty of space between you and the vehicle. And remember that the road in front of the plow is going to be in a far worse state than behind!
  • Assuming bridges are slippier even when other roads aren't -- bridge surfaces freeze faster than other roads
  • Having a fully charged cell phone with you (but never use it when you're driving!)
  • Keeping the gasoline tank full to prevent freeze-up

If you suffer an emergency in your car, such as a blow-out, don't stop in travel lanes. Drive to the nearest safe location.

If you are trapped in your car by the weather or other traffic, stay inside and wait to be found. Run the engine for short bursts to stay warm -- but keep the downwind window open and ensure your exhaust is not blocked by snow.

Even inside the car, you should exercise frequently, moving your limbs as vigorously as you can to help circulation and keep you warm.

AWD or 4WD?

By the way, some clients ask about whether they need all-wheel drive (AWD) or 4-wheel drive (4WD) for winter driving in New York.

Actually, though, the most important thing about road stability during winter is to have suitable tires and to carry chains.

4WD and AWD vehicles do offer better traction than two-wheel vehicles in certain circumstances but for many drivers on well-cleared roads and short routes, this may not make a significant difference.

As for the difference between AWD and 4WD for winter vehicles, AWD is probably the better of the two for most (all but the most extreme) driving conditions. 4WD is better for off-road.

Be Prepared

In addition to these tips, being prepared for tough winter driving conditions calls for two other essential actions:

First, always try to plan ahead. Listen to weather and traffic forecasts, consider whether you need to drive at all, and work out your route and expected timings.

Second, make sure you're adequately insured. Of course, basic liability car insurance is a legal requirement in New York. But it makes sense to consider additional auto insurance options to protect your own vehicle (not just other cars) in the event of a crash.

Accidents happen even to the most careful drivers and sometimes you can end up in financial trouble even if it's not your fault -- for example if the other driver turns out to be uninsured.

Talk to your insurance agent now, before winter arrives. If you don’t have an agent, please get in touch with PRK. We can get you fully protected quickly and at highly competitive rates. PRK Insurance is your trusted NY Auto Insurance agency! Give us a call today to make sure you and your car are properly protected, 1-516-799-9001.