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Winter driving safety guide: Preparation, protection, prevention key

Chris Davis, mechanic for hire at the Fort Rucker Automotive Skills Center, works on a car in one of the bays at the center earlier this year. The center offers complimentary holiday vehicle inspections Mondays and Tuesdays from now through Dec. 23 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. by appointment. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Chris Davis, mechanic for hire at the Fort Rucker Automotive Skills Center, works on a car in one of the bays at the center earlier this year. The center offers complimentary holiday vehicle inspections Mondays and Tuesdays from now through Dec. 23 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. by appointment. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Published: December 5, 2014

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (December 5, 2014) -- Although the South isn’t known for snowy storms and icy roads, Mother Nature can sometimes throw a curve ball and bring winter’s frosty bite down to southern Alabama.

That’s why Fort Rucker officials want the installation’s residents to be ready for whatever winter weather they might encounter during this holiday season, whether it’s on post or during a road trip farther north, people should be ready for increased traffic and poor weather conditions.

One way people can be prepared is by making sure their vehicles are in proper working order before heading out on long trips or venturing into adverse weather conditions, according to Scotty Johnson of the Aviation Branch Safety Office, who offers the three “Ps” for driving success – preparation, protection and prevention.

Properly prepare for a trip, protect yourself and the ones you love, and prevent crashes by obeying traffic laws, staying vigilant and driving carefully, he said.

Before winter weather hits, Johnson suggests that people have their vehicles properly prepared for the season by having the necessary maintenance checks performed. Get an engine tune-up in the fall, be sure all lights are in good working order, have the brakes adjusted, check the battery and voltage regulator, and remember to switch to winter-weight oil if not already using all-season oil.

Being properly prepared is the key to safe, winter driving, he said.

“Avoid driving while you’re fatigued,” said Johnson. “Getting the proper amount of rest before taking on winter weather tasks reduces driving risk. Also, never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area and make certain your tires are properly inflated.”

He also advises to never mix radial tires with other type of tires and to keep the gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze ups.

Before heading out on long trips, Johnson said people should watch weather reports beforehand to avoid hitting bad weather, and even suggests delaying a trip when especially bad weather is expected.

“If you really don’t have to go out, don’t,” he said. “Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can, so don’t tempt fate.

“If you must leave, let others know your route, destination and estimated time of arrival,” said Johnson, “and always make sure your vehicle is in peak operating condition by having it inspected by a AAA-Approved auto repair facility.”

When driving, Johnson said drivers should never use cruise control when driving on slippery or wet surfaces, especially during rain or snow storms.

“Always look and steer where you want to go and always wear a seat belt every time you get into your vehicle,” he said.

If driving in snow, people should take extra care, especially if it’s not something they are used to, he said.

“Accelerate and decelerate slowly,” said Johnson. “Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Don’t try to get moving in a hurry and take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember, it takes longer to slow down on icy roads.

“Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads – accelerating, stopping, turning – nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement,” he continued. “Give yourself time to maneuver and remember that the normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to 10 seconds in snowy conditions.”

Braking can sometimes be tricky in the snow, and that’s why Johnson said people need to know their brakes – whether they are antilock brakes or not.

“The best way to stop is threshold breaking,” he said. “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.”

People should also prepare an emergency kit when traveling, to include a cellular telephone, blankets, gloves, hats, food, water and any needed medication.

In the event that people become snow-bound, Johnson said the best course of action is to stay with the vehicle, which will provide a temporary shelter and make it easier for rescuers to locate them.

“Don’t try to walk in a severe storm. It’s easy to lose sight of your vehicle in blowing snow and become lost,” he said. “Also, don’t over exert yourself if you try to push or dig your vehicle out of the snow.”

Instead, people should tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna of the car or place a cloth at the top of a rolled up window to signal distress. At night, Johnson suggests keeping the dome light on if possible to make it easier for rescuers to see.

“Make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t clogged with snow, ice or mud,” he added. “A blocked exhaust could cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to leak into the passenger compartment if the engine is running.

“Use whatever is available to insulate your body from the cold, including floor mats, newspapers or paper maps,” he said. “If possible, run the engine and heater just long enough to remove the chill, (but try to) conserve gasoline.”

In order to help people on Fort Rucker stay safe throughout the holidays, the automotive skills center is offering free pre-Christmas vehicle inspections Mondays and Tuesdays from now through Dec. 23 from 8-4 p.m.

“We conduct these free safety inspections before most major holidays. We want to make sure Soldiers and their Families are safe before they go on long trips,” said Tina Barber, auto skills center program manager.

The mechanics will do an overall inspection of the vehicle – checking multiple areas, including engine fluid levels, radiator fans, tire condition, belts and lights. The inspections are by appointment only, so people must make sure to call to reserve a time.

For more information or to make an appointment, call 255-9725.

This article was originally published at

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