Winter Driving Tips

When you’re behind the wheel of a car or truck in winter, the only thing worse than heavy white snow is unseen black ice, so even on days when there’s no precipitation, cold weather presents awful road conditions everywhere in southeastern Massachusetts.

From Route 3 heading South from Plymouth toward Cape Cod, to Route 6 which runs down the spine of the Cape, to Route 25 that connects the Cape to the South Coast, to Route 195 leading to New Bedford, and all those small residential side streets—danger is excruciatingly close, so the best protection against winter accidents is mere common sense. Slowing down is the best course of action on the road in winter.

As simple as this sounds, I advise my clients that reducing speed is the smartest thing you could do when it’s snowing, sleeting or when the mercury is south of 32 degrees, or, the point when water freezes. After all, danger doesn’t announce itself and often you’re only a skid or a few seconds away from a serious traffic incident at any given moment.

Using the brakes is practically an art form during winter in Massachusetts, but remember to use them often. According to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT,) “bridge decks freeze first” because of the difference in air temperatures, and “the surface condition can be worse on a bridge than on the approach road.” Getting on and off the Bourne and Sagamore Bridges carefully is a prime example of local safety protocols. And be careful on these exit ramps since there’s less “anti-icing material” scattered on those curvy surfaces than on straight roads, according to the Mass. DOT.

You may feel safer and more confident driving a heavy 4x4 SUV or truck, but remember these types of vehicles are heavier than cars and they don’t stop on a proverbial dime, so allow more braking time as you slow down. Forget using cruise control: a bad idea in this quirky New England weather because the lightest pressure on your brakes could deactivate cruise control and you then will have little control over your vehicle.

Keeping your vehicle ship-shape to literally weather winter roadways includes a mechanic-worthy check of the ignition and fuel systems, brakes, oil, antifreeze and battery, wiper blades and fluid, the exhaust and especially the defroster. Your mechanic will know exactly what to do in this winterization process.

Stock your vehicle with the right emergency supplies such as heavy boots, warm clothing, a flashlight with batteries, and jumper cables. Think about keeping a small shovel and a bag of cat litter or sand so if you get stuck, sprinkling a coarse substance will give your tires traction. If you do get stuck, running the engine without making sure the exhaust pipe is free of ice or snow may prevent deadly carbon monoxide from entering your vehicle.

Let’s talk ‘worse case scenario.’ If you hit someone or if someone hits you, first and foremost determine if anyone has been injured. Even if no one is hurt, call 911, because an accident report is necessary for insurance purposes. Get all vehicles off the road, if possible. Exchange information with the other driver: standard data such as the license number, insurance information, and vehicle registration. Remember, by law you have to show these identity pieces if you’re asked.  

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