With Thanksgiving and Christmas now in the rearview mirror, motorists might be inclined to relax and let down their guard, but not so fast. Winter driving can be challenging at the best of times, and it’s doubly so when the roads are crowded.
AAA says that in 2017, drivers blew through nearly every travel record on file. A strong economy, growing consumer confidence, and cheaper hotel rates have propelled travel to new heights. Between Saturday, December 23, 2017 and Monday, January 1, 2018, AAA estimates that a staggering 97.3 million U.S. travelers went over the river and through the woods–and the vast majority did so by car.
With all those vehicles on the road and plenty of wintry weather still ahead, driving may be more dangerous than usual in the coming weeks. In my previous article “5 easy tips for safe winter driving,” I offered a few pointers for preparing your car for the challenges of ice and snow. Now, I’m going to offer a few more tips–but this time, they’re focused on you, the driver, so you can get yourself and your whole family wherever you need to go.
1. Reduce distraction points. Tight clothes, rattles, and whistling door and window seals might not seem irritating in the first few moments of your drive, but after several hours, they can wear on you. That, in turn, can make you distracted and fatigued.
- Before you slip behind the wheel, make sure you’re wearing comfortable traveling clothes. Yes, I’m aware I could have my gay card pulled for suggesting that comfort trumps style, but if you have to choose between arriving without flair or with tragedy…well, that’s a no brainer. Besides, that hot guy getting gas might like your favorite union suit.
- Tidy up the driver’s area, removing trash and unnecessary clutter–anything that might cause a distraction. That coffee thermos on your floorboard can turn into a safety hazard if it rolls underneath your brake pedal.
- Clean your glass inside and out with a good glass cleaner. I also suggest using an anti-fog/anti-glare treatment. Don’t have any cleaning solution on hand? Tobacco juice (my grandfather would soak two cigarettes overnight then ring out the tobacco water and apply it to the inside of the windshield) or shaving cream can work as a substitute. Don’t forget the rearview and side mirrors!
- If passengers want to watch movies or listen to loud music, ask them to use headphones or earbuds.
2. Know your vehicle, know your route. If you’re traveling a long distance along unfamiliar highways and byways, it’s important to review your travel path. Check the websites for your state transportation department and highway patrol prior to your trip and again before you set out to note any detours or trouble spots. Knowing your route and potential choke-points can help you make changes on the go and avoid delays–or worse.
- Use navigation apps like Waze, inRoute, Here WeGo, and Google Maps. They can provide additional information like road closures, accidents, police activity or other reported problems. Don’t rely on just one app, get several as they work in different ways, depending on your location and network access–though of course you should let your co-pilot interact with them while you’re driving.
- Most cars have a standard range of 300-500 miles. If your trip is lengthy, pre-plan fuel stops, especially if you’re traveling through rural areas where 24/7 gas stations might be hard to find.
- If you’re in snow country, research the snow routes and plow schedules, if available.
- Avoid closely following snowplows, sanding, salting or de-icing vehicles. Visibility behind those vehicles is often very poor. What’s worse, impatient drivers can become dangerous when trying to pass a slow-moving plow.
3. Know your limits. Your car may be in perfect shape, but if you’re tired, hungover, or otherwise not your best self, you could be in for trouble. You might even lapse into a “microsleep” without realizing. It may last for only a few seconds, but if it coincides with the need to perform some critical driving task (e.g. turning the wheel or responding to a stop signal), your risk of crashing skyrockets.
- Avoid driving between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m. Even in small towns and suburbs, rush hour can be frustrating.
- Avoid driving between midnight and 6 a.m. That’s when your body’s biological rhythm most intensely craves sleep–even if you’re a night owl.
- Recognize when you’re suffering from driver’s fatigue. It’s not always easy to tell when you’re too tired to drive. Here are some signs that it’s time to pull over:
- Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids
- Daydreaming, wandering, or disconnected thoughts
- Trouble remembering the last few miles driven (especially missing exits or traffic signs)
- Yawning repeatedly or rubbing your eyes
- Trouble keeping your head up
- Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or hitting a shoulder rumble strip
- Ensure that you’re in optimal shape by getting seven or eight hours of sleep before your drive. If you can’t manage that, a few quick naps can help:
- The pre-drive nap: taking a short nap before a road trip can help make up for a restless night’s sleep.
- The mid-drive nap: if you find yourself drowsy while driving, pull over to take a short nap of 20 minutes. Make sure you’re in a safe location, and remember you’ll be groggy for 15 minutes or so after waking up. I recommend going for a short walk to clear the fog.
- Use the buddy system. It’s safest to drive with a partner on long trips. Letting your pal take over so you can grab a few winks will help battle fatigue.
- Don’t rush. It’s better to arrive at your destination safe than on time.
- Don’t drink alcohol. You’ve heard the lectures, seen the commercials, and watched the after-school specials. You know that even small amounts of alcohol will enhance drowsiness.
Got any other handy tips? Feel free to leave them in the comments below. Stay safe and have a beary happy new year!