Navigating Through Winter Weather: A How-To Guide for Pennsylvanians

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Pennsylvania winters can be tough. Snow. Sleet. Ice. Here's what you need to know to safely navigate it, whether you're traveling in a car, on foot, or via bicycle:

If You're Traveling By Car…

Of the more than 5.7 million vehicle crashes that occur on U.S. roadways each year, the Federal Highway Administration estimates that nearly a quarter of them—more than 1.2 million—are weather related.

Just this week, the state Department of Transportation closed a section of Interstate 90 near Erie after a 15-vehicle pileup blamed on lake-effect snow.

If you must drive during a snow storm, the car accident injury attorneys at Edgar Snyder & Associates suggest you keep these safety tips in mind:

  • Visibility is Key. It cannot be stressed enough: Don't be a peephole driver. You've seen them: They are the drivers traveling down the road with snow-shrouded cars and just enough of the white stuff scraped off their windshields to "peep" out at the road. In addition to this being illegal in Pennsylvania (you can be fined between $110 and $1,000), it's also dangerous.
  • Avoid the Letter "E." It's a good rule of thumb in the cold-weather months: Don't let your gas tank approach empty. Make sure you have at least a quarter tank of gas in your car. It prevents gas lines from freezing up on you.
  • Avoid the Parking Brake. If possible, avoid using your parking break in the winter. When it's cold and snowy, parking brakes can freeze and not release.
  • Give Yourself Time. When it comes to driving, everything takes longer when roads are snow and ice-covered—especially braking. Avoiding a winter rear-end accident by increasing your following distance. If you usually give yourself a two- to four-second gap, increase it to eight to 10 seconds.
  • Watch Your Tires, Avoid Cruise Control. You most likely don't need to purchase tires specifically for winter use, but you do need to make sure the tread is still suitable for winter driving. When it comes to driving in inclement weather, remember that the heavier the tread, the more effective the grip. Here's a pro tip to quickly check your tire tread: use a penny to measure the remaining tread. Just turn the penny upside down so that Lincoln's head is upside down, and then place the penny in one of the grooves on your tire. If Lincoln's head is covered, you have more than 2/32'' of tread remaining. If you have less, you need new tires.
  • Understand How Anti-Lock Brakes Work. When you were learning how to drive, an older, wiser family member may have drilled it into you: If you start to slide in snow or ice, pump your brakes. Not so if you have an anti-lock brake system (ABS). Instead of pumping them, brake hard. When you brake hard enough for the wheels to lock up, you will feel the brake pedal vibrate against your foot—and it's completely normal.
  • Know How to Steer If You Lose Control. If you start to skid, stay calm and avoid slamming on the brakes. If your rear tires skid, take your foot off the accelerator and steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your front tires skid, take your foot off the gas, shift into neutral and steer once the vehicle begins to slow. Once you feel traction, put your car back in gear and gently accelerate.

If You're Traveling By Foot…

Here's a scary statistic: Pedestrians are 1.5 times more likely to be killed by a car than vehicle passengers. More than 4,700 pedestrians were killed in U.S. traffic crashes in 2013, and another 150,000 sought emergency treatment for injuries suffered after being hit by a car.

Slip-and-fall accidents can cause serious and sometimes even life-long injuries. We don't want you to become part of the statistic—if you must walk in inclement weather, keep these safety tips in mind:

  • Be Bright. By that we mean, be visible. Wearing bright or reflective clothing will keep you from blending into the winter landscape and help ensure you are seen by passing motorists. And speaking of gear: Make sure you're wearing shoes with a heavy tread to help prevent a slip-and-fall accident.
  • Don't Take the Road Less Traveled. It might have made all the difference for famed poet Robert Frost, but we don't recommend it to pedestrians—it probably has more snow and ice. Pro tip: If it's below-freezing and the pavement looks wet, it very well could be black ice. Beware!
  • Watch Those Entrances. Just because you're out of the elements doesn't mean you're out of the woods when it comes to a possible slip and fall accident. Use extra care when entering buildings on snowy days—people track in snow and slush, which can melts and create a possible tripping hazard.

If You're Traveling Via Bicycle…

Getting fellow motorists to share the road can be challenging even in prime weather conditions. It's important for bicyclists to exercise even more caution when they are riding in a snow storm or on snow- or ice-covered streets.

Here are some bicycle safety tips to keep in mind this winter:

  • Beware of Gunked up Gears.'Tis the season for salt and slush—both of which can gunk up your gears and chains. In some instances, they can even freeze. Make sure you check them before you head out, and rinse everything off when you return.
  • Watch Those Tires. Bike enthusiasts know: The lower the tire pressure, the better its grip on the road. And grip is the name of the game in the winter time. While the proper tire inflation in the warm-weather months is generally 120 psi, consider lowering it to 90 to 100 psi.
  • Consider Your Lane Position. It's a bike safety rule of thumb that's especially important in the winter time—if you can't safely share the lane, then take the lane. Here's why: The strip of roadway closest to the curb is the most dangerous because it's where debris from the road accumulates, as well as where snow and slush is plowed. Not only is riding in the snow more challenging, but the white stuff also obscures road obstacles—presenting another danger to cyclists.

It should go without saying: Don't tempt fate. After so many inches of snow fall, the roads are unsafe despite the safety precautions you take. We know—since 1982, the personal injury attorneys at Edgar Snyder & Associates have helped people hurt in accidents. We know how devastating they are to not only the victims, but to their families, as well.

We hope you never have to experience the fallout from a car accident, but if you do—we can help. Call us today for a free case review. And remember: There's never a fee unless we get money for you.