As if plummeting temperatures and shoveling aren’t reason enough to dislike winter in Massachusetts, snowy and icy weather creates hazardous road conditions. Car accidents, truck accidents, and pedestrian accidents are more likely as slippery roads increase both the distance required to stop a vehicle and the chance of sliding. Taking certain precautions against winter hazards can reduce drivers’ and pedestrians’ risk of personal injury or wrongful death.
First, try to avoid driving in bad winter conditions. If driving is necessary, try to drive during daylight hours only, plan ahead to avoid rushing, and wait until snow removal crews have eased road conditions. Check wiper blades and tires and make sure they are suited for winter driving conditions. Also, if you are traveling far from home, equip vehicles with a winter emergency kit including blankets, food, water, matches, candles, flares, sand for traction, and jumper cables.
Seat belts can save lives but only if they are worn properly. A properly fitting seat belt will fit tightly across the lap, snugly across the chest, and will cross at the shoulder. A seat belt should never cross at the neck or back Seat belts with lap restraints only are ineffective and should be avoided. An improperly fitting belt can actually make personal injuries worse. Heavy jackets will intefere with proper seat belt operation and should be avoided or removed once the car is warmed up.
Pedestrians face special problems since sidewalks are not always plowed and it may be necessary to walk in the street. One should walk facing the traffic in order to be able to observe the approaching traffic–and to take evasive action if necessary. At night, lightly colored clothing is important. Motorists need to be especially aware of pedestrians and even bicyclists during the winter months. Massachusetts General Laws c. 89, Section 14 requires motorists to slow when approaching pedestrians or bicyclists, and to pass only when it is safe to do so.
Finally, focus on safe and strategic driving. Stay at least nine car lengths behind the vehicle ahead to allow plenty of room to stop. Unless you have anti-lock brakes, If brakes begin a lock, ease off the brake. Be aware that bridges and overpasses freeze before the road. To regain control of a vehicle if rear wheels begin to skid, ease off the gas and steer in the direction the car should go. If the car starts to go too far in one direction, keep steering opposite ways until the vehicle is under control. If the front wheels are skidding, ease off the gas and let the vehicle slow down until traction is regained. If stuck in the snow, do not hit the gas. Try to remove snow and ice from around the wheels, and use sand for traction. Some vehicles can also be “rocked” by alternating between drive and reverse, while gently pressing the gas.
For more information on winter safety, please see the following articles:
State Police Issue Winter Driving Safety Tips
Uncleared Sidewalks Imperil Pedestrians
Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency–Tips to Ensure Safe Winter Driving