By Meredith Lyons
Whether you're new to the Chicago area and winter driving as a whole or you've lived here your entire life, there are a few staples for winter driving that everyone should be aware of and reminded of each year when preparing their winter checklist.
Driving Tip #1: Keep a snow shovel, a set of extra gloves and a hat in your car. Everyone has that old Christmas hat that someone knitted as a gift and that mismatched pair of gloves that can be a much-needed warm ally in the weather. You're not going to wear them out, so why not include them in your car's cold weather survival kit? There will most likely come a time when you're glad you have them available.
Driving Tip #2: Carry something heavy and useful in your trunk. The weight cuts down your gas mileage a bit, particularly if you drive an SUV. Some common heavy, useful items include salt or bags of kitty litter. Both will provide traction in case you are caught parked on what has become a sheet of ice.
Driving Tip #3: Know how to handle your breaks. Pulse the breaks rather than stomp on them and if you find yourself on an icy patch, steer into the spin with the gas, not the break, and then gently ease up once you have regained control. Take note: anti-lock breaks will take a longer distance to stop the car. They pulse on their own to help prevent your wheels from locking up so the driver maintains control of the car, but beware that you'll need a longer stop gap between vehicles in snowy conditions. If you have it, always use your four-wheel drive in snowy conditions.
Driving Tip #4: If you find yourself forced to drive in heavy snow conditions, be smart. Drive on populated or plowed roads whenever possible and always let someone know when you're leaving, the route you will be taking and when you plan on arriving at your destination. If you're not comfortable driving in the conditions outside, don't drive. Find a way to camp out where you are. Get to know your neighbors. You never know when you'll need to borrow their snow blower of ask for help in shoveling out your car.
Driving Tip #5: If Chicago is hit with a particularly dense winter and you need to travel for the holidays, have the following stashed in your truck for emergencies: an extra bottle of anti-freeze, ice-melting windshield wash, an extra long ice scraper, a portable jumper generator with a spotlight and ac/dc transformer, old blankets, matches and some votive candles. You never know when you'll be stuck without gas and end up waiting for a snow plow until morning. Blankets and candles can add to the warmth.
Always minimize all distractions even further when driving in snowy conditions. Put the cell phone in the glove compartment (those calls can wait until you're stopped), pick out your music before you start to drive, get your coffee situated and yourself comfortable and then concentrate on the road. If you're interested in taking some driver's classes before getting out on to the wintery road, Illinois Driving School offers adult, teen and refresher courses and Nova Driving School also offers both teen and adult as well as defensive driving courses.
Be sure to check out Getting Around Illinois, a state website with driving conditions.
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