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As winter driving conditions worsen, senior drivers must take extra precautions on the road


Ice and snow can make maneuvering winter roadways difficult for motorists of any age, but changing weather conditions can be especially challenging for senior drivers.

“AAA is taking the opportunity to remind senior motorists about extra precautions they can take to stay safe on the roadways this winter,” said Lori Weaver Hawkins, manager, public and government affairs, AAA Blue Grass. “It’s important that senior drivers plan ahead for inclement weather by ensuring their vehicle is winter ready and then practicing safe winter driving techniques when out on the roads.”

According to research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, winter storms, bad weather and sloppy road conditions are a factor in nearly half a million crashes and more than 2,000 road deaths every winter. Drivers older than 65 are 17 times more likely than younger motorists to be injured or killed when involved in a crash.

Winter vehicle preparedness

The first step in being ready for winter driving is to ensure your vehicle is ready. Simple additions, from pedal extensions to seat cushions, can help make vehicles safer all year long, but especially during the more challenging winter months. Yet, according to AAA Foundation’s Longitudinal Research on Again Drivers (LongROAD) project, nearly 90 percent of senior drivers say they haven’t made adaptations to their vehicles.

The installation of products such as steering wheel covers can help lessen the impact of arthritis. Larger mirrors and assistive devices on seats can help reduce the impact of limited neck mobility.

After making any necessary adaptations for comfort and mobility, follow these tips to ensure your vehicle is road-ready for winter driving:

• Make certain your tires are properly inflated and have adequate tread.
• Have the battery checked by a professional to ensure it is strong enough to face cold weather. AAA members can request a visit from a AAA Mobile Battery Service technician who will test their battery and replace it on-site, if necessary.
• Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze-up.
• To optimize visual clarity, clean the outside and inside of your windshield at least once a week.
• Keep your car’s windshield and rear-window defrosters in good working condition.
• Keep your windshield wiper blades fresh. Consider changing them every 6 months.
• Before heading out, prepare a winter emergency kit and stow it in the trunk of your vehicle to have it immediately available. Emergency kit items should include a deicer, shovel, ice scraper, warning flare or reflector triangle, flashlight with fresh batteries, first aid kit, jumper cables, and sand or kitty litter for traction.
• Pack a blanket, extra gloves and a heavy, light-colored jacket, scarf and hat so you can be seen if you have to get out of your vehicle. Pack enough snacks and beverages for you, your passengers and pets traveling with you, as well as a cell phone with car charger.

Tips for driving in the snow

The driver who knows what to do in an emergency can reduce emotional impact and increase chances of correct responses when driving in bad weather. Once your vehicle is road ready, keep these tips in mind when venturing out on wintry roads:

• Avoid driving while you’re fatigued. Getting the proper amount of rest before taking on winter weather tasks reduces driving risks.
• Consider running errands and planning trips during daylight hours whenever possible, to improve visibility.
• Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage, nor leave a running vehicle unattended.
• Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids.
• Drive slowly. Every maneuver takes longer on snow-covered roads and driving slowly can help you maintain control.
• Be aware of possible ice. Be especially careful on bridges and overpasses, which freeze sooner than roads. Even at temperatures above freezing, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges if conditions are wet.
• Be careful on infrequently traveled roads, which may not be cleared as often as other roadways.
• Avoid braking on icy roads. Try to brake well ahead of stop signs and traffic lights, preferably in areas of clear pavement. The best way to stop is threshold braking. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.
• Don’t stop if you can avoid it. There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, without getting close to vehicles ahead of you, do it.
• Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top rather than hard acceleration. Do not stop on your way up the hill. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed downhill as slowly as possible.
• Never use cruise control on slippery roads. Cruise control will cause you to lose the ability to transfer more weight to the front tire by simply lifting off the accelerator. A driver should always be in full control of his or her vehicle during poor road conditions.
• Avoid unnecessary lane changes. This increases the chances of hitting a patch of ice between lanes that could cause loss of vehicle traction.
• Respond to skids. Regardless of the cause of the skid, look and steer toward your intended path of travel. Straighten the wheels as soon as you feel the rear of the vehicle begin to realign with your intended path of travel.

“If you really don’t have to go out, don’t,” adds Weaver Hawkins. “Remember, if driving conditions are bad, there’s no shame in staying at home, off the roads. Enjoy the winter season, and above all, stay safe!”

AAA


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