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Staying safe on the road in winter and summer

Every season in Chicago poses weather challenges for drivers. Winter can create many dangers, but those that cause the greatest risks include sleet, snow, rain and ice. Summer can features crowded roads, drunk drivers and other hazardous conditions. All drivers have a responsibility to slow down and drive safely in those conditions since it's much easier to lose control of their vehicles when the weather poses a challenge.

Truck drivers need to be particularly careful; they sit behind the wheels of some of the largest vehicles available. With massive loads on or in their trailers, there is great potential for deadly crashes involving commercial drivers.

Winter driving recommendations

Here are a tips for winter weather driving:

  • Watch out for wind speed
    Truck drivers should monitor wind speed. If they operate tall vehicles, like moving trucks or box trucks, there is a greater surface area for the wind to push against. A particularly fast and strong gust of wind could even push over the vehicle.
  • Avoid precipitation hazards
    When there are blizzards, heavy thunderstorms or other extreme conditions, your best bet is to simply stay off the roads. Heavy winds make it hard to drive, while heavy rains or snow can make it nearly impossible to see. Avoid a crash by pulling over or waiting out the bad weather before driving.
  • Check your windshield wipers
    The time to find out they should be replaced is not when you are stuck in a storm.
  • Keep the gas tank full
    In the summer months, some people only fill up when the tank is nearing empty. In the winter, you are taking the chance that you'll be stuck in a snowstorm without the gas to run the engine and keep warm.
  • Fill the windshield wiper reservoir
    On a snowy or slushy day, you can easily go through a half gallon of wiper fluid. Make sure that you frequently check and top off your reservoir to ensure you can keep your field of vision clear.
  • Use snow tires
    Tires designed specifically to handle snowy conditions will grip the road better to give you traction during to get going, for braking, and turning.
  • Slow down
    It's easier to lose control of your vehicle in slippery conditions. Give yourself plenty of space around other vehicles and drive more slowly to allow yourself more time to react to dangerous situations.

These are a few weather hazards drivers face in the winter. Exercising caution can keep you safe. If you are in an accident, call for help and follow established safety rules.

Black ice: One of winter's unique hazards

Black ice is dangerous enough that it deserves special mention. Black ice is different from other surface hazards because it's not visible to the naked eye. Black ice forms when temperatures drop below freezing. It usually forms after a short snow melt or when the temperatures hover between 32 and 34 degrees, since it freezes and thaws depending on the time of the day.

Knowing where and when black ice forms and the steps to take should they encounter this dangerous glaze, drivers can limit the ice's impact on their cars.

  • Location
    As bridges and overpasses cool faster than roads, black ice can freeze in these locations first. When the temperatures head south in the winter, drivers should recognize that a wet-looking patch on a bridge's surface is more likely to be ice than water run-off. In these conditions, it's best to slow down when approaching a bridge and provide ample space between cars to allow for reduced braking capabilities.
  • Time
    Black ice typically forms in the early morning and evening hours before the sun is able to warm the road's surface. As daylight hours are limited in the winter months, those commuting to work or school in the morning and evening will not have the light of day to aid in navigation. A tell-tale surface is not as easily recognized by moonlight. For those who speed while traveling to and from work, these drivers need to exercise caution during the winter months.
  • Safety measures
    A common reaction to sliding is to stomp on the brakes. This approach resuts in an uncontrolled slide. Take your foot off the brake, straighten the wheel and decelerate slowly while remaining calm.

Summer road hazards

In the summer, drivers should be on the lookout for:

  • Road congestion
    Cheaper gas means more travel. With an estimated 38 million people traveling on Memorial Day weekend alone, that means the roads will be crowded all summer long. Be vigilant and find ways around the worst congestion, if possible.
  • Distractions
    Distracted driving accounts for 25% of all car accidents, and text messaging makes the risk of a crash 23 times higher. Don't talk on the phone, text, groom or eat while behind the wheel.
  • Motorcyclists
    During the summer months, motorcycle traffic increases. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends to watch for motorcyclists when you change lanes, cross intersections, and as you make your way around curvy roads.
  • Drunk drivers
    Drinking and driving spikes during the summer. Watch out for erratic motorists, and never get behind the wheel yourself if you've been drinking.
  • Watch the weather
    During the spring and early summer, there can be a huge amount of rain storms. AAA estimates that over one million crashes occur each year because of wet roads. Watch the weather report and be prepared to seek shelter and postpone your trip if necessary. 

Holidays are especially dangerous

The holidays present many opportunities to get together with friends, co-workers and loved ones. Holiday parties are one of the highlights of the end of the year for many people, with gift-giving and excellent food to reward those who come out to socialize. Unfortunately, that festive atmosphere may also prompt some people to drink too much before calling it a night.

For other people, the stress of planning a holiday or spending it with family is enough to result in poor decision-making. Regardless of what motivates someone to consume alcohol and get behind the wheel, it is still common. As a driver, you need to be aware of the fact that the holidays bring with them a substantially increased risk of encountering drunk drivers on the road.

Statistically, the most dangerous holidays to drive are:

  • Black Friday
    With 70 million shoppers out for Black Friday, parking lot accidents reach record highs, rising by 36 percent.
  • NFL Game Days
    Accident claims around the stadium on NFL game days can rise from 8 to 79 percent. A home team loss leads to more accidents than a win.
  • New Year's Day
    The highest percentage of alcohol-related deaths occurs on New Year's Day instead of New Year's Eve, likely caused by drunk drivers making their way home in the early morning.
  • Thanksgiving
    One of the busiest travel days of the year. Over 46 million Americans travel for Thanksgiving. The highest volume of traffic is on the Wednesday before as everyone tries to make it to their destination.
  • Christmas
    Accidents increase by 20 percent in December. The six days around Christmas see more accidents than New Year's Eve. Holiday stress and crowded roadways lead to more aggressive and dangerous driving.

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