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WINTER DRIVING SAFETY – Start with Pre-Trip Preparation and Regular Vehicle Maintenance

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Every time you start your car they glow to greet you, but usually, after few seconds of engine operation, they fade away—hopefully not to be seen again until the next engine start.

As part of October Car Care Month, AAA is urging motorists to be aware of the red and yellow indicators on a vehicle’s instrument panel that illuminate when a problem occurs.

‘Motorists need to be aware of the critical ‘big three’ warning lights, which include those that monitor engine oil pressure, engine coolant temperature and vehicle charging system,’ says Elliott Eki of AAA Oregon/Idaho Public Affairs. ‘To reduce the chances of vehicle damage or a roadside breakdown, these warning lights require prompt and proper action when they illuminate.’

When the ignition key is first turned to the ON position, all of the vehicle’s warning lights should illuminate. The ‘big three’ lights typically remain on until the engine is started and running. If a warning light fails to illuminate at this time, have the related system checked out by an auto repair facility. Once the engine is running, all the warning lights should go out within a few seconds. If any light remains illuminated, consult your owner’s manual or the sections below for further information.

Details include: During Winter Car Care month, AAA promotes the importance of preventive maintenance. The most common vehicle deficiencies include weak batteries, worn or damaged wiper blades, clogged air filters, low washer fluid, dirty or low motor oil, and low anti-freeze levels.

‘Breakdowns are most often preventable by simply ensuring that your vehicle is regularly maintained,’ Eki said. ‘The state of health and durability of things like batteries, fluid levels and tire conditions all come into question especially during the winter season when extremely cold temperatures can put even the most reliable devices to the test.’

The Winter Car Care 12-point inspection includes:

  • Battery check for loose cables and corroded terminals
  • the radiator overflow reservoir
  • Oil level check with the vehicle’s dipstick
  • Brake fluid level check
  • Power steering fluid level check
  • Automatic transmission fluid level check
  • Inspection of all belts and hoses
  • Inspection of the air filter
  • Windshield washer fluid level check
  • Inspection of windshield wipers
  • Light and turn signal inspection
  • Inspection of tire tread wear and inflation if necessary

Winter driving conditions vary greatly in the Rogue Valley. According to Rosalee Senger, Transportation Safety Coordinator for the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), motorists watching only for snow often overlook other dangerous driving conditions, such as rain, ice and low visibility.


During dry weather, road grime and oil from passing vehicles accumulates on the road. When it rains, this accumulation floats to the surface of the road during the first few hours of precipitation. This combination means slick roads. Drivers should use extra caution:

  • Leave extra space between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead.
  • Don’t drive too fast for weather conditions.
  • Improve the visibility of your vehicle by turning on the headlights.


Bridges and overpasses are the most dangerous parts of the road in the winter. Bridges freeze before roadways because the concrete or steel in bridges does not retain heat.

Bridges are suspended, so there is no land beneath them to keep them warm. Bridges cool faster because they are hit by wind from above and below. This is why motorists should still be cautious, even if a storm has moved on. To avoid such hazards when you drive:

  • Keep your distance from vehicles in front of you.
  • Drive cautiously to avoid ice on the road.
  • Roads that are wet or have fresh snow, packed snow or ice have varying degrees of traction. Adjust your speed according to these conditions.
  • If, all of a sudden, your vehicle feels like it’s floating, gradually slow down. Don’t slam on the brakes.
  • In the late afternoon, when temperatures drop and the roads are wet, take caution when driving on bridges or concrete highways. These are the surfaces that get slick first.
  • Changes in elevation can drastically affect road and weather conditions. Drifting snow may cause ice spots. Avoid driving through drifts that may cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
  • Powder or dry snow can affect your visibility, especially when approaching or following trucks or snowplows.

Low Visibility

Weather conditions such as snow, heavy rain, fog or smoke can create dangerous driving situations.

Use these driving tips when encountering low visibility driving conditions:

  • Avoid entering the area if you can’t see ahead.
  • If you suddenly encounter reduced visibility, pull your vehicle off the pavement as far as possible. Stop, turn off lights, set the emergency brake and take your foot off the brake pedal to be sure the taillights are not illuminated. Turn on emergency flashers.
  • If you can’t pull off the roadway, slow down, turn on lights and sound the horn occasionally. Use the painted centerline to help guide you. Look for a safe place to pull off the roadway and pay attention to traffic behind you.
  • Never stop on the traveled portion of the roadway.
  • During threatening weather, drivers should listen to commercial radio or television, adjust travel plans accordingly, and drive with extra caution.

Using low-beam headlights during the daytime in winter can help make your vehicle more visible to other drivers.

“Whether its dawn or dusk or it’s raining, cloudy or snowing, your visibility will be improved significantly if you use your vehicle’s low-beam headlights,” said Senger. Low-beam headlights are valuable when there is little contrast between the color of a vehicle and that of its background, such as a lightly colored car against snow or a green car against foliage. Small cars are harder to see at a distance, too. “Headlights really contribute to safety on highways with one lane in each direction,” Senger said. ‘Improved visibility can help prevent various accidents, such as head-on collisions and sideswipes as well as collisions with pedestrians and cyclists.’Tests conducted by the Society of Automotive Engineers determined that without lights, drivers detect oncoming cars when they are 2,074 feet away. With headlights on, the average visibility distance increased to 4,720 feet.

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