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Safety Tips for Driving in Winter Weather

Every season has its own inherent risks when it comes to traffic-related accidents, but it is winter weather that can bring with it some of the worst conditions for driving on Maryland roadways. While the eastern half of our state can experience a wide range of temperatures, from hot and humid summers to mild and generally brief winters, other portions can experience harsher conditions as the colder months approach.

As Baltimore personal injury attorneys, Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers, we enjoy mostly mild winters, as do many who live and work on what is known as the Atlantic Coastal Plain, which also includes the Annapolis, Ocean City and Washington, D.C., areas. But many parts of the state are less inviting from a winter driving standpoint. The Piedmont area, which can receive on the order of 20 inches of a snow a year, presents motorists with its own winter driving challenges.

People living in Maryland’s Cumberland Valley region and points west experience the cold-weather season in their own way. For those who live and work in this mostly humid continental climate, including the northern and western portions of greater Baltimore, Gaithersburg, Frederick, and Hagerstown, snowy and slushy conditions can cause traffic problems, with occasional icy roadways making travel dangerous at times.

The higher western elevations of far western Maryland can bring longer and colder winters for the residents of Allegany and Garrett counties. Much like that of the surrounding states, drivers in and near the cities of Oakland, Frostburg and Cumberland can find persistent wintery weather presents poor driving conditions during the colder months of the year. Wherever one lives in Maryland, however, understanding the dangers inherent in winter driving is the first step to avoiding traffic accidents and the possible injuries that can come as a result.

When fall begins to ebb and winter starts to make itself evident, drivers should always consider the change of weather as a warning to alter their mindset when it comes to traveling our roadways. Not only can traffic collisions occur more easily in wet and slippery winter conditions, but dusk comes much earlier than other times of the year. In bad weather, as conditions deteriorate, drivers of passenger sedans, family minivans and sport utility vehicles must watch out for the less maneuverable and more massive commercial trucks they share the road with.

Especially during inclement weather, the legal staff at Lebowitz & Mzhen has a heightened awareness of the hazards that motorists face all around the state. And, while we understand that every mode of transportation presents its own set of risks, those people who travel in smaller, lighter-weight vehicles can end up facing the greatest danger.

Although looking out from the warmth of one’s home at a fresh blanket of newly fallen snow can bring back pleasant memories of childhood, driving-age adults can grow to have a visceral repulsion once they see the roadways covered by this slick and potentially dangerous frozen water. Depending on the conditions, one could be looking at a brief display of nature’s beauty or a portent of nasty winter weather that might bring fender-benders and auto injury accidents.

Children do not understand what their parents almost always do; that driving in the wintertime is never as fun for motorists. A couple of the more dangerous conditions that drivers can encounter are icy roads and the hidden and deadly “black ice” that can blend into the tarmac and cause the driver of a car or truck to almost instantly lose control of his or her vehicle. It is a fact that nearly a quarter of all traffic accidents are the direct result of poor weather conditions; winter being top on the list.

Ice can form quickly on roadways in the colder months with relative ease. Transitioning from a mostly wet and somewhat slippery liquid water state to a near-microscopic coating of ice can be one of the worst circumstances when operating a motor vehicle. This happens when the surface of a wet roadway drops below freezing, due to a temperature change or an increase in the wind speed. Even when the weather seems to be improving, the threat of ice on a Maryland road does not necessarily go away; this is because the roadway warms more slowly than the ambient air, which means that ice may still be present on the road surface even though temperatures are above freezing.

Ice, sleet, freezing rain and snow can each prevent a car or truck’s tires from maintaining sufficient grip on the roadway. This can impair steering control and the ability to stop in time to avoid a traffic wreck. And, although an ice-covered road is surely one of the most dangerous situations a driver can find himself on, that so-called black ice is even more so. Black ice, named for the way in which it appears to be dark like the roadway itself, is actually an extremely thin layer of tremendously slippery ice on the surface of the tarmac. Appearing as a wet stretch of road, a street that is covered in black ice can fool a driver into assuming that conditions are not as bad as they truly are.

Instead of looking ice-covered, a road with black ice appears to be slightly damp with a sort of matte appearance versus the typical glossy look that an iced-up street usually exhibits. Black ice tends to form at night or during the early morning hours, which also makes it difficult for drivers to detect the road’s condition before getting into trouble. Here are just a few tips for making winter driving a little safer:

  • Winterize your vehicle by having a technician check the brakes, heater, exhaust system, and lights
  • Check all fluids, especially the windshield washer reservoir, and carry extra solvent just in case
  • Control your vehicle speed in accordance with conditions; if bad weather is coming and temps are dropping below 50 degrees, take it easy
  • Allow for the increased stopping distance (three times’ worth) needed on slippery road surfaces; always allow a larger gap between your vehicle and the car ahead
  • Allow for additional travel time; if you’re late, don’t take a chance on your safety by rushing to get to your destination
  • Respect those typically hazardous portions of any roadway, such as wind-chilled underpasses and overpasses, as well as shady areas where ice can form faster than the surrounding roadway
  • Remember to bring your cellphone and keep it on your person in case of a crash
  • Pay particular attention to the condition of your windshield wipers and always carry a brush or scraper for ice and snow removal
  • Avoid using your vehicle’s cruise control on slippery or snowy roadways
  • Check your tires for sufficient tread and maintain proper tire inflation pressures
  • Avoid slamming on your brakes or making sudden steering actions that could cause a loss of vehicle control
  • Keep your headlights on their low-beam setting when driving in snowy conditions
  • Consider an emergency kit for each of your vehicles; some important items may include a tow strap, shovel, hazard triangle, first aid kit, flashlight, blanket and a set of warm, dry clothes

The professional legal team at Lebowitz & Mzhen knows that many drivers can find themselves caught off guard following that first winter snow. As a matter of fact, one of the most dangerous times to drive is the day after an area receives its first true snowstorm. Months of driving in much milder conditions can cause many motorists to become complacent; when the roadways become snowy and icy, everyone on the road is learning how to drive all over again.

As auto injury specialists, Lebowitz & Mzhen know that no matter how much preparation one makes, there is always a chance that a traffic accident will find you. If you or someone you love has been badly hurt in a car, truck or motorcycle crash, we recommend that you speak with a qualified personal injury lawyer.

Any type of traffic collision has the potential to cause serious bodily harm, not to mention possible long-term medical complications. If you find yourself in this kind of situation, as a result of negligence on the part of another motorist, please feel free to contact us. Lebowitz & Mzhen are always ready to help the victims of passenger car or commercial trucking-related traffic wrecks. For a free, no-obligation consultation, email either Jack Lebowitz or Vadim Mzhen; or pick up the phone and dial (800) 654-1949 toll-free to schedule a face-to-face meeting with one of our personal injury attorneys.

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