The snow is coming down so hard, it's a whiteout. Unfortunately, you're stuck on the highway. It's so thick you can barely see in front of you.
A faint light appears, seemingly far in the distance, but as you squint you see it grow brighter in just seconds. It's the flashers of a car that has been in a wreck. You slam on the brakes as you approach, but you are going too quickly. The last thing you can remember is seeing dozens of cars jammed together in different directions as you plow into the car in front of you.
No one ever wants to be in this kind of situation. With a little preparation and careful driving, you can avoid pileups when brutal weather sets in. Here's how:
Slowing down is the key practice that will save you from pileups. They often happen in bad weather conditions, such as snow, heavy rain, and fog. These conditions make it harder for drivers to see where they're going. Slowing down will help prevent you from crashing into traffic ahead when you can't see clearly.
Use Smooth Movements
When it comes to inclement weather, every move you make in your vehicle should be fluid. Turning the steering wheel, pressing the gas, or hitting the brakes should all happen with gentle, controlled movements. If you hit the gas or brake hard, you risk losing traction on a slippery road. Turning the wheel too sharply, for example, could easily spin you out of control. You don’t want to get stuck in the situation where you’ve over-compensated with the steering wheel and end up slammed into the back of a pileup facing oncoming traffic.
Non-ideal driving situations can be stressful. When you're stressed, the quality of your driving can suffer. Take some deep breaths and try to put all the worries out of your mind. Focus on driving safely and smoothly and you'll be out of the mess in no time. If you need to take a break, exit the highway and pull over.
Ideally, if you drive frequently in snow, you’ll outfit your car with snow tires. If you don't have special tires for inclement weather, the best thing to do is slow down and plan your movements ahead of time. For example, when the road is slick, you will have to brake much sooner. Brake too hard and too late, and you'll slide.
Use Your Headlights and Signals
Always have your headlights on during inclement weather. In some cases, it can provide better visibility. It also makes you more visible to other drivers.
While predicting your movements in advance is key, using turn signals in advance is helpful to those around you. When it comes to changing lanes, exiting a highway, or making turns, use your signals early to avoid getting rear-ended or startling another driver into over-compensating on the wheel.
Watch Other Drivers
Never give other drivers the benefit of the doubt. Most of us have some experience driving in snow, ice, or other bad conditions, but these conditions don't happen year-round. If they did, we would all drive better when they happen!
Let bad drivers be bad drivers. If someone wants to pass you or travel at unsafe speeds for the conditions, let them do it. Slow down and give them a ton of room. If they crash, they hopefully won't be taking you with them.
A good strategy on the highway is to watch truckers during bad weather. If they are going slow, you should probably slow down too. This isn’t always the case though – some truckers will just barrel down the highway no matter what road conditions are like, so if that’s the case, just let them pass.
Pay Attention to the Weather
Always look at the reports before you leave. Chances are you've left the house thinking it was a beautiful day, but a few hours in, the weather shifted completely. Don't be caught unprepared for the worst; if there is any chance that it might snow, you should check the weather every few hours.
4WD Isn't Always Your Friend
Many people think that four-wheel-drive vehicles protect them from slipping and sliding. This is not true — just look at the news, and you'll see a good number of vehicles that crash are SUVs and trucks.
4WD is meant to give your vehicle traction. While this can be extremely helpful in bad road conditions, it can make people overconfident. 4WD does not help when the gas or brakes are applied too quickly and your vehicle starts to slide.
If you do get in a pileup...
Brake hard and fast. If you know a crash is imminent, and you have time to react, you need to slow down your car as much as you can before you hit whatever is in front of you.
Decide whether it is safer to stay in your car or get out. Once your car has hit the pileup, your first instinct might be to get out and make a run for it. In some conditions, however, it may be too dangerous to get out. You run the risk of being hit by oncoming cars, and if that happens, you are better off inside your car than out in the open.
Turn on your hazard lights. Oncoming traffic might have a better chance of being alerted of the pileup.
Warn others. If it's safe to exit your vehicle, get to a safe place on the other side of the road and flag other cars. People will slow down if they see you waving.
Move past the wreck and park on the shoulder. If you're able to move your car after it hits the pileup, move forward or past the pileup if possible. Your goal is to not sit at the tail end of a wreck in low visibility conditions.
Call 911. Calls may be flooding into the police already, but it's better to be safe than sorry.
Check out the infographic below by CJ Pony Parts — it breaks down the worst pileups of all time and provides more tips on how you can stay safe.
Click for larger image.