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Safety Report: Winter Driving Dangers

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We have some tips to keep you safe on wintry roads.  Driving in snow or on ice is dangerous at best.

Winter weather wrecks havoc on Virginia's roadways.  Stacy Londrey with the Virginia Department of Transportation said, "Stay off the roads if at all possible."

Last winter, the Department of Motor Vehicles says snow or sleet contributed to nearly 4,000 crashes in the commonwealth.  Twelve people died in wrecks blamed on winter weather.

Londrey stated, "Weather conditions change very quickly.  It's not anything any of us can predict.  So, you just always want to use extra caution."

We traveled to Virginia Tech to test drive a simulator used to train truckers in virtual winter weather.

Justin Morgan and his team of researchers can create different virtual scenarios on the road.  First, they demonstrate following too closely in snowy conditions. 

On a clear day, leave three to four seconds between you and the car in front of you.  Morgan said, "That needs to be eight to 10 seconds in snowy conditions."

Avoid slamming on the brakes - even in vehicles with all wheel drive and traction control.  "Hard braking can be very dangerous, because that can cause your tires to suddenly lose traction and can cause your vehicle to spin and slide," stated Morgan.

Next, we see what happens in a wintry mix when light snow and ice coat the lanes.

"You have practically no traction in ice," said Morgan.  "Steer slowly.  You don't want to suddenly jerk the wheel to change lanes."

And slow down to guide your car carefully around curves and turns.  Morgan said, "He's doing the speed limit of 45 miles per hour now, but as you see, he's going around the curve and not able to stay in his lane and he's now having a crash."

Morgan encourages a gentle approach to driving in any kind of winter weather.  He said, "Imagine that you're driving with eggs under your brake pedal and your gas pedal."

If you absolutely have to hit the roads in winter weather, prepare your car in case you get stuck.  Londrey said, "Make sure all your fluids are full and your heater is working, and you have an emergency kit in your vehicle."

Today's technology makes it easier to track road conditions on your commute with live traffic cameras and online updates.

"We hope those tools will be helpful and allow people to prepare, and not go out on the roads and find they're in a situation that's far worse than they expected," stated Londrey.

Morgan also warns against using cruise control because your car's computer doesn't know the wintry conditions on the road.

Relevant links:

VDOT Winter Weather Driving Safety

AAA Winter Driving