Severe winter weather is the exception rather than the rule in most countries. However, this past winter showed that even warmer climates are at risk for severe weather and thus dangerous driving conditions. So, when inclement weather hits, you must be properly prepared to navigate roads covered in snow and ice.
Fortunately, several advanced safety features can help you drive with greater confidence during the winter and throughout the year—no matter which road leads home!
According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), vehicles built since 2000 have helped avert 700,000 crashes and saved approximately 2,000 lives annually. While there is no replacement for human awareness and diligence when driving on imperfect surfaces, high-tech features can make the process safer.
If you’re considering an upgrade for your garage, look for vehicles that offer these life-saving features to enhance everyone’s safety.
Visibility and Comfort
Since driving in snow and ice can be stressful, drivers should use features that boost their comfort and provide a clear view of their surroundings. Here are some quality options to look for when searching for your next vehicle.
- Heated Seats—While they may seem like an extravagant add-on, heated seats help increase comfort and alertness.
- Heated Steering Wheel—Make sure your hands are warm and ready for action as you white-knuckle the wheel and navigate slippery roads.
- Heated Mirrors—One of the most significant safety factors in a vehicle is being aware of what’s ahead, behind, and to both sides. Heated mirrors help clear your side views when winter precipitation is falling.
- Adaptive Headlights—Smart headlights will adapt to your driving behaviors to ensure the beams light your path. Many options also automatically switch from high to low beams as other vehicles approach, allowing the driver to keep both hands on the wheel.
More basic components to consider are winter wiper blades and a washer fluid that applies de-icing chemicals to the windshield.
Four- or All-Wheel Drive Systems
Vehicles that can travel with power delivered to all four wheels offer better control, especially during hazardous conditions. When you’re deciding which drivetrain setup is right for you, it’s essential to understand the differences between the similar systems of 4WD and AWD.
How does 4WD work?
When 4WD is activated, the engine delivers power to the transmission, then distributes it to the front and rear axles. The driver must engage a 4WD drivetrain in most vehicles by triggering it with manual locking hubs or using a switch inside the vehicle.
There is a variation called full-time 4WD, where vehicles move with all four wheels during standard operation. Typically, a driver has options like 4-high and 4-low to adjust a vehicle’s driving performance.
Are there disadvantages to 4WD?
In addition to being more expensive, 4WD vehicles do have a few drawbacks that should be considered. First, the enhanced power and weight can significantly decrease fuel economy. Another disadvantage is in vehicles with manual locking hubs. Drivers must physically leave the vehicle to engage the system, making it dangerous if they are caught off guard.
How does AWD work?
AWD used a similar drivetrain but works as a full-time four-wheel drive system that requires no input from the driver. Vehicles are alerted through sensors and computers when driving conditions require more torque and automatically engage four-wheel capabilities. These innovations help operators avoid making decisions and possibly activating the additional power when it’s too late.
Are there disadvantages to AWD?
Like 4WD vehicles, AWD abilities come at a higher cost than two-wheel drive automobiles. However, the most significant problem with AWD technology is the cost of repairs when a component fails. Since it relies heavily on electronic signals to work flawlessly, parts and labour costs for repair can be considerable.
Auto Braking and Forward Collision Warning
The NHTSA reports that rear-end crashes are the most frequently occurring type of collision, accounting for about 29 percent of all events. When roads are slippery and stopping distance is significantly reduced, the risk of severe accidents rises.
Vehicles that are equipped with forward collision monitoring have an advantage in avoiding impacts. Equipped models will alert a driver when they are approaching a car in their path. Auto-braking software is a more advanced feature that is available in some high-end trim levels.
Rather than only alerting the driver, the computer will actually apply the brakes to make an emergency stop and avoid an obstacle. The driver will resume control of the system once they manually engage the brake pedal.
Another aspect that can help keep you safe from rear-end accidents is investing in LED taillights. The powerful illumination will increase your visibility to drivers behind you, so they can begin slowing down promptly.
Lane Departure Software
If you’ve traveled on snow- or ice-covered highways, you know the difficulties of determining whether you’re staying in the lane. Even more startling is that other drivers are probably facing the same challenge, creating a dangerous situation for everyone involved. Lane departure systems can help take the guesswork out of seeing in low-visibility events.
It works by alerting a driver when the vehicle begins veering into the wrong lane. Generally, a warning like a buzzer or steering wheel vibration will encourage drivers to readjust the vehicle’s position. Some advanced systems that offer assistive technology can correct the problem automatically.
Unfortunately, heavy snowfall that completely covers the road may prevent the cameras from observing and navigating between the painted lines. However, this innovative feature can provide peace of mind when traveling during less severe weather events.
Stay Safe Out There
If a modern vehicle with all the bells and whistles isn’t in your budget, you can still take proactive measures to ensure your current ride is ready for winter weather.
Your most essential ally when navigating wet or slippery roads is a quality set of tires. Without proper treads, your vehicle won’t gain the traction it needs to travel safely. Low tread depth puts you at significant risk of becoming stuck or sliding into a terrifying situation on busy roadways.
You should check that all your lights are working. From headlights, taillights, blinkers, and running lights, the more visible you can make yourself, the better the chances that other drivers will be aware of your location.
Don’t forget to pack an emergency kit in your trunk or back seat. Bring along life-saving items like flashlights, extra food and water, blankets, and a first aid kit. If a winter storm is severe, local authorities will likely enforce towing bans, or you may simply face extended waits for help. Ensuring that you can stay safe in brutal temperatures for long periods is a critical element to surviving winter driving.