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10 must-know winter driving tips

By Barbara Marquand on January 6th, 2014

Sometimes the best advice for winter driving is simply to stay home. But if that's not an option, then the next-best advice is to be prepared.

More traffic accidents occur in the winter months than all of the other months combined, says the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI).

Don't let yourself be part of this winter's grim accident statistics. Follow these 10 tips to stay crash-free:

1. Winterize your car.

Get the car tuned up to make sure everything is in good working order. Before heading to snow country, double-check the brakes, windshield wipers, defroster, heater and exhaust system, advises the California Department of Transportation. Make sure the tires are in good condition and inflated properly.

2. Pack an emergency kit.

Stash blankets, bottled water, gloves and snacks in the car in case you get stranded, and always take your cell phone. Other items to keep in the car for winter travel:

  • Flashlight
  • Bag of sand, salt or kitty litter and mats to place under tires to increase traction
  • Towels
  • Jumper cables
  • Window-washing fluid
  • Anti-freeze
  • Flares or warning triangles
  • Small folding shovel
  • Tire chains
  • Ice scraper
  • Broom for brushing snow off the car

3. Stay fueled.

Keep your gas tank at least half-full during the winter to prevent the gas line from freezing up, AAA says.

4. Don't warm up the car in the garage.

Lethal levels of carbon monoxide can accumulate in a few minutes, even with the garage door open.

5. Slow down.

The speed limit is set for dry conditions, not for icy or wet roads. Everything takes longer when roads are slippery, so slow down to give yourself plenty of time to brake, turn, accelerate and decelerate.

6. Keep your distance.

The typical following distance of three to four seconds on dry pavement should be increased to eight to 10 seconds when roads are slick, AAA says.

7. Stay with your car if you get stranded.

If possible, pull off the highway, turn on hazard lights or use flares, and hang a distress flag from an antenna or window, State Farm advises. Call 911, and stay with the car so emergency responders can find you. Use lights, heat and radio sparingly to conserve gas. Run the engine and heater about 10 minutes every hour to stay warm. Crack a downwind window for ventilation and make sure the exhaust pipe is clear to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

8. Watch for trouble spots.

Beware of black ice, and remember that bridge decks and shady spots can be icy when other parts of the road are dry.

9. Don't use cruise control when roads are slippery.

Cruise control is a great feature for long trips on flat highways in dry conditions, but it's not meant for wet and slippery roads.

10. Avoid driving when you're tired.

Getting enough rest before winter driving reduces the risk of accidents, AAA says.

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