Are you ready to drive in winter conditions?

By Keith Pancake

Hopefully by the time you read this, all the vehicle preparations necessary to be safe in winter will have been made as a part of your routine maintenance schedule. If you haven’t taken the time to care for your vehicle properly, the time to act is now before the cold temperatures and hazardous conditions settle in.

The following items are important when having your service completed. Tires are your connection to the road, and tread depth is even more critical in snow and ice situations. Proper rotation and inspection throughout the year pays off in the winter. Colder temperatures can cause tire pressure to drop, so please check for proper inflation on a regular basis. The battery can be stressed by cold temperatures, and should be tested during service. You can check terminal connections for corrosion by simply popping the hood and looking. In addition to oil, your vehicle has several other fluids that should be checked and properly filled, including coolant and brake and power steering fluids. Making sure your wipers are clearing the windshield and that all your lights are operating correctly allows you to see and be seen. Maintain at least a half-tank of fuel and check it prior to ending your day. This keeps fuel lines from freezing and reduces time pressure when unexpected conditions arise. These preparations can help make sure your personal engine runs well in winter, too.

Drinking fluids and having extra water is equally important in winter, because wind and dry air can lead to dehydration. Dressing in layers is key to staying comfortable and warm, but can also lead to sweating, so pack a set of dry clothes to change into. Visibility is just as important in the winter, particularly on the roadside. Make sure to have all your high-visibility personal protective equipment (PPE) in good shape and that you wear it. Proper footwear, including cleats or other stabilizers, reduces slip hazards, which are increased in winter. Be careful where you step! Finally, pack some high-energy snacks to fuel your day.

Watch the forecast and follow posted weather advisories, particularly in areas that experience fewer snow and ice events. If you are driving in winter conditions remember the following:

  • Clear snow from your vehicle before driving – it is the law!
  • Buckle up.
  • Slow down, increase following distances 8 to 10 seconds for winter conditions.
  • If you must travel for storm work, have a plan and inform others of expected arrival time and the route.
  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly.
  • Travel a steady and slow speed uphill in snow or ice.
  • Talk to your supervisor or ASR if you aren’t familiar with properly operating the 4WD or AWD in your vehicle.
  • Take extra time – plan your routes.
  • Don’t crowd the plow.
  • Use extra weight as needed (up to 100 lbs. max) such as sandbags, salt or firewood.
  • If you are sliding, do the following:
    • Back off the gas.
    • Apply steady pressure to slow down and avoid pumping the pedal.
    • Steer into the direction of a skid, the direction your rear wheels are sliding.
  • Bridges and overpasses ice first — proceed with caution.


Keith Pancake is a safety manager serving ACRT and Bermex. He has been involved in the UVM industry for 10 years. He is an ISA Certified Arborist and Utility Specialist with a Bachelor of Arts in Geography/GIS from Keene State College and a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife, Fish and Wildlands Science and Management from Tennessee Technological University.

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