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Your New York winter driving safety checklist

Here in Western New York, we know it's not a matter of if we will get snow, just a matter of when and how much. The answers tend to be "soon" and "a lot." Perhaps you learned to drive on snow and ice and aren't too concerned about the winter weather, or perhaps you are new to the area or new to driving. Either way, every winter driver should go through their winter driving safety checklist to make sure they are prepared for changing conditions. Here are a few things to check to make sure your car is ready:

  •  Tires. Tires connect you to the road, so you want to make sure they are in good condition and correctly inflated. If you have been getting by on worn tires for a while, now is the time to get new ones. Western New York gets enough snow to justify snow tires, as well. 
  • Lights. It gets dark earlier this time of year, which means you will be using your lights more. Not only is it important that you can see the road, but other drivers need to see you. Make sure all of your lights work. Remember that you must have your lights on if you are using your wipers.
  • Battery. Most garages have a battery testing system to make sure your battery is in good condition. Now is the time to replace your battery if it is starting to go.
  • Jumper cables. In this climate, nearly everyone has needed a battery jump at some time or another. You should always carry jumper cables. That way you will be prepared if you need to ask someone else for help, and you will be prepared to help a neighbor in need. 
  • Wipers and fluids. Make sure your wipers are in good condition and top off your fluids, especially windshield washer fluid and anti-freeze. Keep your gas tank full, too. Running out of gas in the cold is not just an inconvenience, it can be dangerous.
  • Emergency kit. In addition to everyday items you keep in your car like an ice scraper and brush, your spare tire and jack and your cellphone, you should have an emergency kit. Your kit should contain drinking water, non-perishable snacks, warm blankets or a sleeping bag, a first-aid kit, basic tools, flares or warning triangles and traction material like sand or kitty litter. 

Now that your car is ready for winter driving, you can prepare yourself. Don't let over-confidence outweigh your good judgment. Remember these important tips:

  • Give yourself more room and slow down. Even if you have those new snow tires, you still need more time to stop, and so does everyone around you. When you brake, do it gently. If you are stuck behind a snow plow, and chances are you will be at some point, have patience and give them lots of space.
  • Clear your windows. It may be cold and frustrating, but clear your windows completely before driving. Trying to drive with half-scraped windows will severely limit your view. 
  • Follow the weather reports. If the authorities are telling you not to drive, they probably have a good reason for it. Save yourself, and them, the risk of an accident and take a snow day. 

New York will be a winter wonderland before you know it. If you take the time to be prepared for winter driving, you can enjoy the ride. 

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