If you live in a place that gets plenty of winter weather, you know that the winter wonderland experience is very short-lived, and mostly enjoyable if you do not have to drive in it. Driving in winter weather is a challenge unless you are properly equipped.
Winter driving conditions in West Virginia vary a lot depending on where you are in the state. Some parts of the state average around 10 inches of snow per year, while Terra Alta, West Virginia gets an average of 171 inches of snow per year. The Parkersburg area is on the lower end of the range, averaging 17 inches of snow per year.
Regardless of where you reside, you are likely to encounter some slick roads and snow during West Virginia winters. It is better to be prepared to drive in the snow and to know what to do if you are involved in a winter driving accident.
Preparing Your Vehicle for Winter Driving
Before weather arrives, you should take care of a few car maintenance items recommended by the West Virginia Department of Transportation to help prepare your vehicle for cold weather:
- Check the battery. You won’t want to be stranded in winter weather with a battery that might need to be jump started.
- Check tire tread and tire pressure. Good tread and pressure will help prevent your vehicle from skidding in bad weather.
- Check vehicle fluids and top off the windshield washer fluid. It is easier to clear a frosty windshield with windshield washer fluid.
- Make sure the windshield wipers are operating well.
The Value of Snow Tires
It is important to have the right tires on your vehicle if you drive in snowy conditions. A set of snow tires is easily one of the best investments you can make to help you get around West Virginia during the winter months. Consumer Reports reports that its testing shows that snow tires generally outperform all-season tires when it comes to traction, stopping and cornering on snow-covered roads. If you are shopping for snow tires, look for the symbol of the snowflake and mountains on the sidewall. It indicates that the tires comply with an industry standard for traction in snow. West Virginia permits the use of studded snow tires on passenger cars from Nov. 1 through April 15.
The West Virginia DOT also recommends having a roadside safety kit on hand with the following items in it:
- Ice scraper
- Jumper cables
- Tow rope
- Hand warmers
- First aid kit
- Flashlight & batteries
- Reflective warning triangle & safety vest
- Gloves, winter hat, & other warm clothing
- Water & snacks
- Sand or kitty litter for traction.
Before you leave home, you can check road conditions by calling 511 or by going to www.wv511.org.
Winter Driving Tips
If you do not have a lot of experience driving in the snow, every time you do it will be a learning experience. If road conditions are poor and you are able to stay home, do it. Waiting for road conditions to improve is always a good idea, when possible. The more time you can give to allow the West Virginia Division of Highways (WVDOH) to get the roads cleared the better.
If you must drive in bad weather, keep the following suggestions in mind:
- Drive slowly. If you are driving slowly and cautiously, you have a better chance of figuring out how slick the roads are and how long it will take your vehicle to stop when you put on the brakes. You’ll have a better chance of avoiding a collision if you take it slow.
- Buckle up. Road conditions increase your chances of being in an accident. Wearing a seat belt could save your life. It also is required by law.
- Create a buffer. If there are other cars on the road during poor driving conditions, allow extra space between your vehicle and the others around you so that you have extra time to stop if they stop or slide.
- Clear off the snow. This seems like an obvious thing to do, but I have seen a number of vehicles in the winter that have a thick layer of snow on top of their vehicle. The snow can slide onto the windshield once the car warms up. Take the extra time to clear the snow and ice from your vehicle so that you can maximize your visibility.
- Know how to skid. If you start to slide on an icy road, do not panic. Just take your foot off the gas, tap the brakes lightly, and lightly turn the steering wheel into the skid.
- No cruise control. Bad weather is probably the worst time to try to keep your car at a set speed. You need to be able to respond quickly to whatever conditions you encounter, so avoid using cruise control.
Knowing your limitations is also important. If the weather folks recommend staying home, take their advice if possible.
Winter Motorcycle Safety
If you ride a motorcycle in the winter, there are some precautions you should take to protect yourself from the elements and to avoid accidents.
To avoid too much exposure to the cold, you should dress appropriately with a thick coat and pants or coveralls, boots, gloves, and a helmet. If you layer your clothing, that will provide extra protection against the elements in case you are in an accident.
Driving a motorcycle on slick roads is extremely dangerous, even for experienced riders. Many experienced bikers leave their motorcycles parked and find another way to get to work or school when snow or ice is predicted. Check the weather forecast and avoid putting yourself in the position of having to drive a motorcycle on wet or slick roads.
Other things you can do to avoid winter accidents include:
- Modify your speed when taking corners or riding over patches of road that look wet.
- Don’t brake or turn the handlebars too quickly.
- Check your tires for sufficient tread, and warm tires up for better traction.
- Maintain a safe following distance from passenger vehicles. Make sure your bike is visible in other drivers’ mirrors.
Staying indoors and avoiding slippery roads and other dangers might be the safest solution for bikers who are not experienced in riding in poor conditions.
Winter Truck Driving Dangers
Winter driving with trucks on the road can be especially dangerous. Trucks are expected to make tight deadlines, even in bad weather. These time constraints can cause some drivers to make risky choices and put others in danger.
Truck accidents can happen in winter weather due to:
- Failure to put chains on tires.
- Not clearing snow and ice from the top of the rig.
- Excess speed on slick or snowy roads.
- Not allowing extra room to come to a complete stop.
- Improper loading, which increases the risk of jackknifing or making the rig tip over in strong winds.
If you are driving on winter roads near a truck, make sure to maintain a larger-than-normal buffer distance from them, as you would from other vehicles as well.
What If I’m in an Accident?
If you are involved in an accident, first seek medical treatment. Your insurance company and the police will both likely do an assessment of the accident and try to determine who is at fault.
If you have a serious case, you need a serious injury lawyer. After you’ve been treated for your injuries, come talk to us. You may not even need a lawyer. Maybe all you need is some advice. But if you have serious injuries, you may be entitled to compensation. If you live in Parkersburg or Wood County, West Virginia, or Marietta or Washington County, Ohio, call today to schedule a free consultation.