Tips for avoiding accidents during winter driving season in Pennsylvania

Since a significant number of car accidents occur during poor weather, Pennsylvania drivers should be familiar with best practices for safe winter driving.

Weather conditions are a common cause of accidents in Philadelphia and other areas that experience severe inclement weather. The Federal Highway Administration reports that, nationally, more than one-fifth of all motor vehicle accidents occur during inclement weather or on roads that are slick due to such weather. During each year between 2002 and 2012, these crashes injured an average of at least 480,000 people and claimed 6,250 lives.

Winter weather can create especially challenging driving conditions, since it often results in slick roads, poor visibility and the presence of snowplows. Consequently, drivers in Pennsylvania can benefit from understanding the various measures that can help them reduce their risk of experiencing a wintertime car accident.

Keep up on maintenance

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation recommends that drivers schedule vehicle maintenance or personally inspect their vehicles in preparation for the winter season. The functionality of the headlights, wipers, defroster, brakes and battery should be checked. Additionally, drivers should confirm that all vehicle fluids are at appropriate levels.

Tire condition is another important concern during winter. Drivers should use tires that are rated for mud and rain, and people commuting in areas that receive heavier snowfall may want to consider utilizing snow tires. Drivers also should check that their tires are inflated properly and have adequate tread remaining.

Be alert for ice

When driving during inclement weather, drivers should watch out for icy conditions. The FWA states that 12 percent of weather-related accidents occur on icy roads, as do one out of 50 fatal car accidents. According to the PDOT, ice buildup is especially common on bridges, ramps and other elevated areas. Drivers should also be careful of pavement that appears wet, as it may actually be frozen.

Utilize appropriate lighting

Low visibility is a common issue during winter driving, which makes using proper lighting essential. Under Pennsylvania law, drivers are required to turn on their headlights during any conditions that require the use of wipers. Drivers also should switch to low-beam headlights during low-visibility conditions, such as fog or heavy snow.

Employ extra caution

In general, motorists should decrease their travel speed and increase their following distance when driving in winter weather. Drivers should also exercise caution around snowplows, keeping the following facts in mind:

  • Plows often travel at significantly lower speeds than other traffic. Drivers should always be cautious when approaching these vehicles.
  • Approaching snowplows can reduce visibility by throwing snow, and they may be wider than they appear. Drivers should always move as far right as possible to accommodate snowplows in the opposite lane.
  • Plows have blind spots and can be pushed away from their course of travel by heavy snowpack. Therefore, drivers should avoid traveling next to plows.

Additionally, drivers should remember that small vehicles can lose control when they encounter snow thrown from plows. To avoid this issue, drivers should follow at least six car lengths behind plows and use caution when driving near multiple plows.

Stay prepared for accidents

Finally, the PDOT recommends that drivers keep an emergency kit for breakdowns or accidents. This kit should include a shovel, first aid supplies, food and water, warm clothing, a blanket, a phone charger and other necessities. Drivers who have previously made kits should confirm that those kits are still properly stocked.

In addition to taking these actions, drivers should understand their rights in the event of an accident. Sadly, many winter crashes happen because other drivers were careless in the maintenance or operation of their own vehicles. In these situations, victims may benefit from speaking to a car accident attorney about potential legal remedies.