Driving in bad weather
Snow and ice are typical occurrences during Iowa’s winters. These conditions call for different driving tactics and drivers should check the local forecast and road conditions before embarking on a trip. However, if driving is required during icy or snowy road conditions, here are a few tips from the National Weather Service.
Driving safely on snowy/icy roads
- Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.
- Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.
- Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists.
- Keep your lights and windshield clean.
- Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
- Do not use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.
- Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.
- Do not pass snow plows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you are likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.
- Do not assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.
If your rear wheels skid:
- Take your foot off the accelerator.
- Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they're sliding right, steer right.
- If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.
- If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
- If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.
If your front wheels skid:
- Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral but do not try to steer immediately.
- As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in "drive" or release the clutch and accelerate gently.
If you get stuck:
- Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
- Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
- Use a light touch on the gas to ease your car out.
- Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.
- Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.
- Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner's manual first — it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse and back again. Each time you are in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.
Drivers should also be prepared for winter driving, which means making sure vehicles are winterized and necessary supplies are on hand. Following are some suggestions from the National Safety Council.
Prepare your car for winter by starting with a checkup that includes:
- Checking the ignition, brakes, wiring, hoses and fan belts.
- Changing and adjusting the spark plugs.
- Checking the air, fuel and emission filters and the PCV valve.
- Inspecting the distributor.
- Checking the battery.
- Checking the tires for air, sidewalls wear, and tread depth.
- Checking antifreeze levels and the freeze line.
Your car should have a tune-up (check the owner’s manual for the recommended interval) to ensure better gas mileage, quicker starts and faster response on pickup and passing power.
Be prepared with a "survival kit" that should always remain in the car. Replenish after use. These supplies include:
- Working flashlight and extra batteries.
- Reflective triangles and brightly-colored cloth.
- First aid kit.
- Exterior windshield cleaner.
- Ice scraper and snow brush.
- Wooden stick matches in a waterproof container.
- Scissors and string or cord.
- Non-perishable, high-energy foods like unsalted canned nuts, dried fruits and hard candy.
For seasonal weather conditions:
If you are driving long distances under cold, snowy and icy conditions, you should also carry supplies to keep you warm, such as heavy woolen mittens, socks, a cap and blankets. For warm weather stormy conditions, you should carry appropriate rain gear (pancho, umbrella, etc.).
If you become stranded:
- Do not leave your car unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to possible help and are certain you will improve your situation.
- To attract attention, light two flares and place one at each end of the car a safe distance away. Hang a brightly colored cloth from your antenna.
- If you are sure the car's exhaust pipe is not blocked, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so depending upon the amount of gas in the tank.
- To protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia use the woolen items and blankets to keep warm.
- Keep at least one window open slightly. Heavy snow and ice can seal a car shut.
- Eat a hard candy to keep your mouth moist.
The Iowa DOT has a Web site dedicated to winter operations, which provides links to winter travel information, safe driving tips and snow removal operations. For more information click here. The Iowa DOT developed a Winter Driving Tip Sheet that provides information on winter driving. To view the tip sheet, click here. Both the links and the tip sheet can also be found on the Iowa DOT's Web site at http://www.iowadot.gov.
Driving in fog
The National Weather Service and the Iowa Department of Transportation have provided tips on driving in fog which can occur on Iowa’s roadways. Fog can be thought of as a cloud at ground level. It forms when the temperature drops to the dew point (the temperature at which air is saturated) and invisible water vapor in the air condenses to form suspended water droplets. Fog can reduce visibility to 1/4 mile or less, creating hazardous driving conditions. If you cannot postpone your trip until dense fog lifts – usually by late morning or the afternoon – follow these tips.
- Drive with lights on low beam. High beams will only be reflected back off the fog and actually impair visibility even more.
- Reduce your speed and watch your speedometer. Fog creates a visual illusion of slow motion when you may actually be speeding.
- Listen for traffic you cannot see. Open your window a little to hear well.
- Use wipers and defrosters as necessary for maximum visibility.
- Use the right edge of the road or painted road markings as a guide.
- Be patient. Do not pass lines of traffic.
- Do not stop on a freeway or heavily traveled road. If your car stalls or becomes disabled, turn your vehicle's lights off and take your foot off of the brake pedal. People tend to follow tail lights when driving in fog. Move away from the vehicle to avoid injury.
Whether the flooding is caused by snowmelt or heavy rain, drivers should be cautious when driving or walking in flood-susceptible areas because:
- As little as 6 inches of moving water can knock you off your feet.
- As little as 2 feet of floodwater can float a car.
- Water moving at 2 mph is capable of sweeping a car off a road or bridge.
Avoid flood-susceptible areas, especially low-lying streets where water commonly pools. Never attempt to walk or drive through a water-covered roadway, and beware of rising, swift-moving water.
If you are driving and come upon rapidly rising waters, turn around and find another route. If your route is blocked by barricades, find another route. Barricades are put up by state or local officials to protect travelers from unsafe roads. Driving around them can be a serious risk. For more information, click here or visit the Iowa DOT's Web site at http://www.iowadot.gov/floods/index.html.
Iowa is in the part of the country that can experience tornadoes. Following are tips from the National Weather Service about tornados.
- Do not drive during tornado conditions.
- Never try to out-drive a tornado in a vehicle. Tornadoes can change direction quickly and can lift a car or truck and toss it through the air.
- Get out of your vehicle immediately and seek shelter in a nearby building.
- If there is no time to get indoors or if there is no nearby shelter, get out of the car and lie in a ditch or a low-lying area away from the vehicle. Be aware of the potential for flooding.
An emergency situation on the road can arise at any time and you must be prepared. In addition to making sure you have a tune-up, a full tank of gas, and fresh anti-freeze, you should carry the following items in your trunk:
- Properly inflated spare tire, wheel wrench, and tripod-type jack
- Jumper cables
- Tow and tire chains
- Bag of salt or cat litter
- Tool kit