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Tips for driving in severe weather    

Believe it or not, there are plenty of pop culture references throughout history that put a romantic spin on lousy weather. Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds sure did enjoy “singin’ in the rain” back in the day. And who among us doesn’t get into the holiday spirit just thinking about walking in a winter wonderland?

Still, you never hear a happy song about driving in a hailstorm or see a dance routine about skidding on a patch of black ice. That’s because getting behind the wheel in severe weather is no joke. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, nearly a quarter of all traffic accidents over the span of a decade were related to hazardous weather conditions.

While driving in bad conditions should be avoided, there are times when you might have no other choice. You can make driving in these conditions less dangerous by using the right precautions and preparations. Here are a handful of tips that will come in handy the next time you’re on the road in less-than-ideal weather conditions.

1. Think ahead

Many of the problems that occur while driving in bad weather can be solved long before the first storm clouds even form. Severe weather can strike at any time, so it’s important to think ahead and be prepared for whatever Mother Nature may bring.

The most important thing you’ll need in any kind of nasty weather is a good set of wiper blades. Without good visibility out your windshield, your personal safety could be badly compromised. That’s why it’s important to change your wiper blades every six months to a year or whenever you notice a difference in visibility.

Cleaning your headlight covers is another key step in improving visibility. Of course, snow and ice can affect your headlights’ beams, but even exposure to the sun can turn them yellow and diminish the amount of light they emit.

Having a good set of snow tires is always a good idea in the winter time, but even making sure your regular tire treads are up to snuff in icy conditions is important.

Finally, keeping an emergency kit in your car is a must when preparing for hazardous driving conditions. Road flares, blankets, a shovel, ice scrapers, jumper cables, and a good flashlight all come in handy at the first sign of trouble.

2. Slow down and keep your distance

No one likes driving in poor weather conditions. When snow, rain and ice are falling from the sky, it can be tempting to rush to your destination in an effort to get off the road as quickly as possible. But it’s safer to slow down and take your time.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration says you should reduce your speed by one-third on wet roads and by at least half in snowy conditions. That means maintaining a following distance of about six seconds behind the car in front of you. It may seem overly cautious, but it’s more important to arrive at your destination in one piece rather than break any speed records getting there.

3. Know your vehicle and take control

What’s the best way to handle icy road conditions in your car? For starters, try leaving it at home in the garage. It’s probably your safest move.

Failing that, make sure you know your vehicle and understand how it performs in bad weather. If you have anti-lock brakes, know how to use them. If your car is equipped with electronic stability control, be sure to understand how the vehicle reacts in difficult situations.

But even if your car doesn’t have all the bells and whistles, you can still take control even in the harshest road conditions. For instance, always steer into the direction of a skid, allowing the car to straighten out and correct itself. It’s also important to know how to use your brakes properly on wet and icy roads. Never slam on your brakes, which may cause the car to skid, and be sure to come to a gradual stop, taking your foot off the accelerator well before the intersection to help maintain control of your car.

4. Be ready for extreme situations

There are, of course, plenty of extreme weather driving situations that go far beyond your basic rainstorm or snowy roads. It’s certainly possible to find yourself driving in the midst of a tornado, hurricane or earthquake.

If you are able to avoid driving in such situations, please do so at all costs. But in the event that you come face to face with an extreme weather condition while you’re behind the wheel, here are just a handful of important tips to keep in mind.

-Never try to outdrive a tornado. If you spot a funnel cloud, get out of your car and go to a concrete shelter (if possible) or lie flat in the nearest ditch.

-In an earthquake, remain in the car until the shaking stops and never park your car on or under a bridge or overpass.

-During a hurricane, on the other hand, it’s perfectly fine to seek shelter under a bridge, in a parking garage, or a large structure that can protect you and your vehicle. Try to avoid driving through large puddles, mainly because they may be hiding dangerous objects and you can never be exactly sure just how deep the water may be.

-When driving in a hailstorm, be sure to keep your car angled so it’s driving into the falling ice. Windshields are made with reinforced glass that is much harder to shatter than the other windows in your car.

Driving in severe weather is an inevitable fact of life but it doesn’t have to be too scary if you’re prepared and know how to react in certain situations. That may involve singing in the rain, but we highly doubt it.