If you live in the Heartland, you know that winter weather leads to less-than-ideal driving conditions. Snow, sleet, and ice add another level of difficulty to everything from your morning commute to your holiday road trip to see the in-laws. Not only that, but they contribute to an incredibly high number of vehicle-related accidents. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) said more than 5.8 million vehicle crashes occur each year based on statistics from 2007 to 2016. About 21 percent of those, or just over 1.2 million, involved hazardous weather.

To help prepare you for the road(s) ahead, Inter-Tech Collision Center has put together a helpful list of five tips to help you drive safer during the winter. Read below to find out more.

Take It Slow

It’s the easiest and most obvious tip and yet we still feel like it’s worth repeating – slow down! There are some people that assume because they have snow tires on their vehicle that they can attack the roads at summertime speeds. They should know better.

Driving safely in the winter means taking everything down a notch. That means depressing the gas pedal with care rather than stomping on it without regard, merging cautiously and while you have plenty of room, and giving yourself two to four times the amount of space necessary to brake depending on the road conditions.

Allow yourself extra time to compensate for your new, safer pace. Even if you are running a little behind, remember that the place you are headed to would rather have you there a few minutes late than not at all.

Avoid Skid Row

Regardless of how good a driver you are, you will most likely encounter an instance when one end of your car starts to shift without you turning the wheel. Yikes! Your first reaction might be to slam on the brakes. Do not do this. Instead, ease off the gas for a second and do one of the following:

For a front-wheel skid – where your front tires lose traction, often during a turn – give your vehicle a few moments to allow it to regain traction and then gently begin to accelerate.

For a rear-wheel skid – where the rear tires lose traction and the car begins to spin out – start turning the wheel in the direction which your back end is going. For instance, if the rear of the car starts to give out to the left, turn your wheel to the left until you regain control.

In both cases, keep your eyes fixed on the location you want your vehicle to be traveling.

Check the Tread

Tire tread refers to the rubber that makes contact with the road. Most winter tires start with between 10/32″ and 12/32″ of tread depth and increase based on the harshness of the conditions they need to handle.

If you do not have a tire tread gauge handy you can always check by using the penny test. To do so, simply take the coin, turn it to the side where you can see the Lincoln Memorial, and insert it into the tread. If the top of the memorial is covered by the tread, then you have more than 6/32″ of tread depth remaining, the lowest recommended level for traveling during the winter. If the memorial is not covered, it is time to replace.

Be Wary of Your Tech 

All-wheel drive and cruise control are two useful tools when cruising down clear roads. However, for winter, you should not put your faith in either. Cruise control, in particular, should be avoided at all costs during the winter months as it does not give you complete control over your vehicle which is what you need during this time of year.

Flashing Lights 

Besides watching for rescue vehicle lights, construction signs, and flashing warning triangles, you need to pay attention to what is flashing on the inside of your vehicle. One of the most helpful tools on your dashboard during this time of year is the stability-control system warning icon.

The icon, which looks like the outline of a car with squiggly lines behind its rear wheels, lets you know when your car is starting to slip, oftentimes before you can actually feel it. If you see this icon blinking, carefully reduce your speed to keep your vehicle from going into a skid.

If you need more helpful tips on driving in winter weather or need assistance getting your vehicle winter-ready, call or come into an Inter-Tech Collision Center near you today.