Guidelines for safe winter driving in Delaware

The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) and Delaware’s American Automobile Association (AAA) are advising motorists to prepare themselves and their vehicles for driving in the ice and snow.

DelDOT and AAA are suggesting guidelines to improve safety for motorists.

Be Extra Careful Around Snowplows

The majority of crashes involving snowplows and vehicles happen when a snowplow is rear-ended or hit while being passed. Snowplows have wing plow blades that can extend anywhere between two and ten feet beyond the width of the truck. This wing plow blade is often not seen because of the snow cloud being kicked up by the snowplow. These wing plows can often weigh as much as a compact car.

When encountering snow plows on the road, DelDOT urges the following:

1. Be patient and remember snowplows are working to improve road conditions for your trip. The plow you see may be on its way to an assigned route, be plowing or salting the road you are on, or is about to begin plowing or salting the road.

2. Stay behind the snowplow. Don’t attempt to pass. The road behind a snowplow is safer to drive on. Stay back at least ten car lengths behind the snowplow, regardless of whether it is plowing or salting. Snow plows don’t always travel at consistent speeds. They may need to slow down or speed up to remove snow and ice that has been packed down by traffic.

3. Never drive close enough to a plow to be hit by snow and ice, salt or brine spray. Doing so is dangerous and can damage your vehicle.

4. Stay alert for snowplows that may be slowing, stopping, turning or pulling over with little warning. They also may travel over center lines or along road shoulders to improve road conditions.

5. If you see a parked snowplow, remember the equipment may have been prepositioned for a storm, the driver could be taking a meal or rest break after spending long hours behind the wheel, or the vehicle could have a mechanical problem. DelDOT follows pre-determined plans for snow and ice and is in touch with its drivers via radio and GPS.

Follow Delaware’s Driving Warnings and Restrictions

When the weather turns especially hazardous, Delaware has a three-level system of driving warnings and restrictions. Drivers should know the three levels and what they mean.

The levels are found in Title 20 of the Delaware Code, Subsection 3116(b)(12) and may be put in effect by the Governor during a State of Emergency for all or parts of Delaware based on conditions.

Level 1: Driving Warning: Drivers are discouraged from operating a motor vehicle on the state’s roadways, unless there is a significant safety, health, or business reason to do so.

Level 2: Driving Restriction: Travel on the roads is restricted to emergency workers, public utilities, healthcare providers including hospital staff, public and private operators of snow removal equipment, private sector food and fuel deliveries, and those industries, companies or organizations that have been provided a waiver, including businesses with pressing continuity and operational issues.

Level 3: Driving Ban: Complete ban on driving except for first responders, utility personnel, and public or private snow removal. Businesses and organizations should adjust work schedules so that employees do not need to be on the roads during a Level 3 Driving Ban.

Winterize Your Car

Winterizing your vehicle (or vehicles) now can mean the difference between staying safe and warm behind the wheel and being stranded and cold along the roadside.

The automotive experts at AAA recommend the following:

1. Battery and Charging System Have the battery and charging system tested by a trained technician. According to AAA’s Automotive Research Center, at 0°F, a car’s battery loses about 60 percent of its strength and at 32°F it loses 35 percent. During cold temperatures starting an engine can take up to twice as much current as needed under normal conditions While three to five years is a typical life span, various internal and environmental conditions impact a battery’s long term health.

2. Battery Cables and Terminals Check the condition of the battery cables and terminals. Make sure all connections are secure and remove any corrosion from the terminals and posts.

3. Drive Belts Inspect belts for cracks or fraying. Don’t just look at the smooth top surface of the belt, but turn it over and check the grooved underside where most belt wear occurs.

4. Engine Hoses Visually inspect the cooling system hoses for leaks, cracks or loose clamps. Also, squeeze the hoses to check for any that may be brittle or excessively spongy feeling and in need of replacement.

5. Tire Type and Tread In areas with heavy winter weather, changing to snow tires on all four wheels will provide the best winter traction. All season tires will work well in light to moderate snow conditions, providing they have adequate tread depth. If any tire has less than 3/32-inches of tread, it should be replaced. Uneven wear on the tires can indicate alignment, suspension or wheel balance problems that should be addressed to prevent further damage to the tires.

6. Tire Pressure Check tire pressure more frequently during winter months. As the temperature drops, so will the pressures in the tires-typically 1 PSI for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The proper tire pressure levels can be found on a sticker located on the driver’s side door jamb, and don’t forget to check the spare.

7. Air Filter Check the engine’s air filter by holding it up to a 60-watt light bulb. If light can be seen through much of the filter, it is still clean enough to work effectively. However, if the light is blocked by most of the filter, replace it.

8. Coolant Levels Check the coolant level when the engine is cold. If the coolant level is low, add a 50/50 solution of coolant and water to maintain the necessary antifreeze capability. The level of antifreeze protection can be checked with an inexpensive tester available at any auto parts store.

9. Lights Check the operation of all headlights, taillights, emergency flashers, turn signals, brake lights and back-up lights. Replace any burnt out bulbs.

10. Wiper Blades Blades should completely clear the glass with each swipe. Replace blades that leave streaks or miss spots. Consider installing winter wiper blades that wrap the blade in a rubber boot to prevent ice and snow buildup that can prevent good contact between the rubber blade and the glass.

11. Washer Fluid Fill the windshield washer fluid reservoir with a cleaning solution that has antifreeze components for cold weather use.

12. Brakes Have brakes inspected by a certified technician to ensure all components are in good working order.

13. Transmission, Brake and Power Steering Fluids Check all fluids to ensure they are at or above the minimum safe levels.

Use Winter Driving Skills

When confronting winter storm conditions, DelDOT asks motorists to follow these driving tips.

1. Stay informed and plan ahead by listening to weather reports, run errands before the storm arrives, and if you must drive in foul weather leave plenty of time to reach your destination. If your trip can be delayed until after the storm passes, stay off the road.

2. Be sure windows are free of ice, and brush snow off the vehicle before departing.

Always wear seatbelts and turn on headlights so you can see and be seen. Low beams provide better visibility than high beams.

3. Slow down and don’t use cruise control. Stopping distances are lengthened when driving on snow and ice, and you will have more time and vehicle control when reacting to the unexpected.

4. Be careful when approaching intersections. Other drivers may have difficulty stopping or turning on snow-packed or icy intersections.

5. Remember that bridges and overpasses typically freeze sooner than approach roads. Slow down before traveling over an elevated roadway and keep steady momentum without braking will help you keep control of your vehicle. Don’t pump antilock brakes. The right way is to “stomp and steer.”

6. If your vehicle starts to skid, don’t panic or over steer and hit the brakes hard. Ease off the gas and steer in the direction you want the car to go. “Steering into the skid” will help realign the rear wheels with the front of the car.

7. Don’t get overconfident in a 4×4 or all-wheel-drive vehicle. Vehicles that have traction at all four wheels are heavier than other vehicles and may take longer to bring to a stop.

8. If you are taking a long-distance trip make sure someone knows where you are going and when you expect to be there.

Have An Emergency Road Kit

AAA advises motorists to update their emergency kit for winter weather. A complete kit should include the following:

>Ice scraper
>Snow brush
>Window washer solvent
>Warning devices (flares or triangles)
>Gloves, hats and blankets
>Flashlight with extra batteries
>Snow shovel
>Bag of abrasive material (sand, cat litter) or traction mats
>Basic hand tools (screw drivers, pliers, adjustable wrench)
>Jumper cables
>Cloth or paper towels
>Drinking water
>Non-perishable snacks (energy or granola bars)
>First aid kit
>Prescription medications (if applicable)

The most essential emergency item to have in your vehicle is a mobile phone and car charger with important numbers programmed and don’t forget to include your roadside assistance provider’s number.

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