by Korey Hope
As spring approaches, many wait in angst for the end of cold days and daydream about the reemergence of sunshine. But in reality, people typically try to displace such thoughts when they arise and focus on the task at hand, whether it’s occupational or academic or social. This is especially true for those driving, because the end of the winter season means the most dangerous roadways for any time of the year.
There are multiple factors that play a role in perilous roads. Some are rather conspicuous, but others may not be on the forefront of drivers’ awareness. So, here are four driving hazards to observe for the late winter and early spring, arranged from most-to-least common.
- The first one is fairly pronounced: snow. Any road that still has a layer of snow should be driven with caution. This is especially true if there hasn’t been a new snow in more than a couple weeks, because cold evening temperatures may have turned the surface of the snow to ice. When strictly dealing with snow or ice, use these tips to avoid losing control.
- Sometimes a roadway can be deceivingly covered with black ice. It can accumulate overnight thanks to below-freezing temperatures, as well as with any amount of freezing rain. Tips for handling black ice will be relatively similar to tips for driving on snow, with the exception of spotting the black ice in the first place.
- Since winter is coming to an end and temperatures are beginning to rise, snow begins to melt. In especially serious winters with a couple feet of snow or more, this snow becomes run-off. Run-off is typically in the form of running water, which according to the Federal Office of Insurance and Safety can cause significant handling issues when operating a vehicle at a speed above 10 mph. Furthermore, the FOIS states that 6 inches of moving water can knock down an adult and a mere 12 to 18 inches can displace some vehicles. So, if you visit the FOIS website linked above, they’ll encourage “turn around, don’t drown.”
- Standing water is hazard number four, and often is a result of hazard number three. In fact, the severity of each of the above hazards help determine the severity of standing water: the more snow and ice and run-off in a winter season, the more standing water will accrue on the roadways. While running water has its own dangers, it combines with standing water to be the leading weather-related cause of death in inland areas. That’s right, according to the FOIS, inland flood waters are more deadly than hurricanes and tornadoes combined. Beside their affect on people, standing water can grievously affect vehicles as well. Driving through more than 12 inches of water puts almost any vehicle at risk of stalling its engine. This is caused by water entering the engine through the air intake, which, you guessed it, is designed to take in air. Flooding an engine can mean its death and potentially monumental repairs. So, is any amount of standing water really worth an attempt at crossing? When making such a decision, first locate the air intake on your car. Trucks and SUVs will typically be safe in up to 20 inches of water. For others, though, more than six inches of standing water can result in more than just loss of a vehicle.
As final words of advice when driving in late winter or early spring: increase awareness in its entirety, know the specifications and limits of your car, and turn around, don’t drown.
More driving safety resources: