• 14 Items to Put in Your Winter Road Trip Safety Kit

    If you’re going over the hills, through the woods or over a mountain pass during wintry months, do yourself a favor. Put a winter road trip kit in your vehicle, just in case.

    Icy roads and traffic jams in cold weather aren’t predictable. Preparing in advance may save you some misery...and keep you safer in bad driving conditions.

    Here Are Items to Put in a Winter Road Trip Safety Kit to Keep in Your Vehicle During the Cold Months.

    1. Plastic storage tub for keeping it all together and dry. And easy stowing when warmer weather returns.

    2. Headlamp. It could be not only snowing but dark when you realize you’re going to have to put on the snow chains.

    3. Speaking of tire chains, don’t forget them. If you have several sets of chains for several vehicles, putting the right chains in a dedicated winter safety kit for each car will keep you from being stranded with the wrong chains when you need them. (Here’s a video on how to install chains.)

    4. Reflective gear. A fluorescent safety vest with reflective strips can be bought at most big box home improvement stores. Orange warning triangles are available at most auto parts stores.

    5. Windshield ice scraper, in case of freezing rain, sleet or heavy snow.

    6. Waterproof jacket with a hood and rainpants. You’ll be glad to have that hood to keep snow from going down your back if you need to put on chains.

    7. Something to sit or kneel on when installing chains. Snowy or icy pavement is not a comfortable surface. A small tarp or even a piece of cardboard will really help.

    8. Gloves. Mittens won’t do you much good if you’re installing snow chains. Get gloves that are water resistant.

    9. Beanie or baseball cap. A knit hat that covers your ears will keep your head warm. Or a cap with a bill will keep snow from hitting your face.

    10. A towel to use after snow chain installation and removal, to put on the seat to keep it dry from your wet outer layers.

    11. Water. If there’s an accident on the pass you could be idled for hours. It’s a good idea to carry some water.

    12. Snacks. Keep a few energy or protein bars with a long shelf life in your kit.

    13. Kid items. Long road delays+hungry kids = nightmare. An extra diaper, a deck of cards and bag of snacks won’t take up much room and could make things a lot more tolerable.

    14. Pet items. A foldable fabric water bowl, spare leash and treats will be rewarded with lots of wags.

    And one last thing: keep waterproof shoes handy inside your vehicle. Driving to your destination with wet feet in winter is no fun. Bring along the galoshes, just in case.

    Want more tips on winter road safety? See 19 Winter Driving Resources You Can’t Do Without.

    Did you know you can get a free pre-trip safety check for your vehicle at Les Schwab? Find out more here.

    Shop for Winter Tires

  • 17 Must-Know Tips That Will Make You a Better Defensive Driver

    Even the most-skilled driver, with a solid safety record, is still at risk for a car accident. Anticipating potential road hazards is the key to defensive driving. In addition to protecting life and limb, it can potentially lower your insurance bill and help you avoid tickets.

    You can’t control bad road conditions, distracted drivers, people under the influence or other unexpected situations. You can, though, increase your odds of staying clear of such hazards with this list of 17 defensive driving tips. They key takeaways are:

    • Assume other drivers will do the unexpected.
    • Keep your full attention on the road.
    • Make sure your brakes and tires are in good working order.

    Defensive Driving Safety Tips

    1. Expect other drivers to do the unpredictable, for example, running a red light, backing out without looking or veering into your lane.

    2. Ignore the constant distractions in your own car, for instance, text message pings, crying babies, eating and drinking, smoking, turning to look at passengers, adjusting the stereo and putting on makeup. Leave your cellphone in your pocket, your purse, your backpack or the glove compartment, and save the snacks and makeup for home or your destination.

    3. Plan your route before you put the car into gear. Load your destination into your navigation system or check the map before you start.

    4. Obey traffic laws, including seat belts, stop signs and speed limits. Give yourself enough time to get where you’re going so you don’t feel pressured into unsafe driving.

    5. Look ahead and keep your eyes moving. Watch the road for potholes and debris, scan the shoulder, check your rearview and side mirrors and be alert to brake lights ahead.

    6. Adjust your speed and following distance when the weather calls for it. A heat wave means there will be overheating vehicles, more tire failures, and more people out and about. Winter weather will create slick conditions that increase your stopping distance. Be extra vigilant and follow these guidelines for driving in rain, snow, ice and fog.

    7. Plan for unexpected changes in traffic speed in construction zones.

    8. Don’t rubberneck. Instead, focus on keeping clear of all those who are gawking around you.

    9. If someone is tailgating you, slow down enough to give them room to pass.

    10. 10. Keep an eye out for animals. Certain times of the day and year are more dangerous due to wildlife. The deer rutting season can start in September and usually peaks in mid-November, though it can stretch into the winter months. During this time, bucks aren’t as aware of traffic. Baby animals and juvenile raptors, who aren’t savvy about highways, are a factor in spring and summer. Go slower at night to watch for animals that get caught in the headlights in the road.

    Young buck crossing road

    1. Give cyclists plenty of room and don’t pass them when there is oncoming traffic or on blind corners. Cyclists may swerve into your lane due to a wind gust or to avoid debris.

    2. Be the one who lets the other driver go first. If you arrive at an intersection at the same time, wait a few seconds before moving through. Even though it may be your turn to go, other drivers may not properly yield.

    3. Make it easy for other drivers to know your intentions. Stay in your lane rather than trying to gain a few seconds or minutes by passing. Always use turn signals. Tap the brakes when you see traffic slowing ahead to alert drivers behind you that there’s a slowdown.

    4. Be extra alert during nights and weekends. Driving under the influence is most prevalent when the workweek is done.

    5. Talk to your teen about driving under the influence. Car accidents are the leading cause of death for teens. Drivers ages 16 to 19 are three times more likely than drivers 20 and older to be in a fatal crash.

    6. Take a course. It will not only improve your driving, it might reduce your auto insurance cost. If you’ve gotten a traffic citation, completing defensive driving training can sometimes get it dismissed, reduce points on your license and keep your insurance rate from going up. The National Safety Council offers online training. Many insurance companies offer educational programs for new drivers in exchange for discounts. Check with your insurer to see what will qualify you for reduced premiums or your local court to confirm approved coursework.

    7. Maintain your vehicle’s most important safety gear: your brakes and tires. If you do need to stop suddenly, you don’t want to find out the hard way that your brake pads are worn or your tire tread is too thin to provide traction. (Les Schwab Tires does free visual inspections of both without an appointment.)

    Defensive driving is a series of hundreds of choices you make about your own driving behavior every time you get behind the wheel. Be the one who watches out for the other driver. Spotting risks ahead of time requires your full attention. With practice, it soon becomes second nature.

    Get More Driving Tips

  • Driving in Rain? How to Avoid Hydroplaning and Other Tips

    The most dangerous rainy driving conditions are during a downpour, right? Nope. It’s actually the most risky during the first 10 minutes of a light rain.

    There’s always some engine oil and grease buildup on paved roads, which will float on water. Any time it rains, road surfaces will be slick, but especially so at the beginning of a rain shower before some of the oily residue is washed away. Rainy conditions can actually be as slippery as driving on ice.

    Be especially aware during the first rain after a dry summer (when oil has been collecting on the asphalt for a long time) and the first few hours of a fresh rain. Follow these driving tips.

    1. Allow more time to get where you’re going if it’s raining or it’s forecasted.

    2. Turn on your headlights so you can see better and others can see you better, too.

    3. Slow down. If you drive 35 mph or slower, you’re less likely to hydroplane because your tires get more traction on wet pavement at lower speeds. Lowering your speed will also give you enough time to react to standing water, sudden traffic slowdowns, disabled cars and any debris that’s been blown into the road.

    4. Give yourself twice as much stopping distance between you and the vehicle ahead.

    Stopping distance in different weather graphic

    1. Don’t use cruise control. It can cause your tires to spin faster if you start to hydroplane. Then you could fishtail and lose steering control when tires regain traction.

    2. Don’t drive through water flowing across the road even if you’re going slow. A car can be swept away by as little as 12 inches of water.

    3. Try to drive in the tire tracks left by the cars in front of you. They’ve done some of the work of scattering water for you.

    Car on wet road

    1. Avoid hard braking, sudden acceleration, and sharp or quick turns.

    2. Stay in your lane. Lane changes and passing are bad ideas when visibility is poor and stopping distance is twice what you need on a dry road.

    3. Avoid puddles and standing water. Driving through several inches of water at a high speed can cause you to hydroplane. It could also splash water into your engine and stall it. If you do drive through a puddle, check that your brakes are working properly by tapping them gently a few times afterward.

    What Is Hydroplaning?

    Hydroplaning is when your tires lose contact with the road and start rolling on top of a thin film of water. It can happen any time a tire can't channel away water fast enough to maintain proper contact with the road. It’s not just driving through standing water that puts you at risk. When it’s raining heavily or you’re driving on worn tread, it’s also risky.

    When tire tread is in good condition, the grooves do the job of giving water on the road a place to go and ejecting it as the tire rolls. Assuming you’re driving at a safe speed, you’ll have plenty of rubber in contact with the asphalt to keep enough traction.

    Graphic showing tire grooves, ribs and sipes

    But when tread depth is shallow because the tire is worn, the grooves aren’t as deep. Less water gets scattered by the grooves, and the vehicle may start to hydroplane. It can also happen if you’re driving too fast for the conditions, even if your tires are in good shape.

    What It Feels Like

    Behind the wheel, hydroplaning feels like the vehicle is floating or veering in a direction on its own. When this happens you’ve lost braking and steering control.

    Sometimes not all four wheels are involved. If your drive wheels hydroplane, there might be an increase in your speedometer and engine RPMs (revolutions per minute) as your tires begin to spin. If the back wheels hydroplane, your car’s rear end will begin to veer sideways into a skid. If all four wheels hydroplane, the car will skid forward in a straight line.

    What to Do If You Hydroplane

    It may be against your instincts, but the right response to getting out of a hydroplane skid is to immediately take your foot off the gas and wait it out. Do not brake or try to steer. Most hydroplane-related skids last for just a split second before your vehicle regains traction.

    If you do brake when you start to roll on water, ease up on the brake until it’s over. If you drive a manual transmission, disengage the clutch as well.

    Don’t slam on the brakes or yank the steering wheel since it could cause you to lose further control. It’s best to wait to brake until you're out of the skid.

    If you have to brake to avoid crashing and have anti-lock brakes, brake normally. If your vehicle doesn’t have ABS, pump the brakes lightly. Gently steer in the direction you want the vehicle to go. You may need to correct the car’s course with very slight steering wheel movements a few times as you’re regaining traction, but don’t oversteer. All this happens in a matter of seconds or less.

    Don’t Be a Statistic

    According to the Federal Highway Administration, most weather-related auto crashes occur on wet pavement and during rainfall. Annually, 3,400 people are killed and more than 357,300 people are injured in crashes when it’s raining.

    Maintaining your tires and driving with extra care when it rains can help keep you from hydroplaning and get you where you’re going safely.

    Dealing with other hazardous conditions, like fog? Check out our article on driving in low visibility.

    Important Notice: The information provided above is of a general nature gathered from a variety of resources deemed reasonably reliable. The operation of your vehicle, or the repair or replacement of your vehicle’s equipment, may be different than for a typical vehicle. Please consult your owner’s manual for specific warnings, notices, and other advice relative to the subjects addressed herein.

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  • Not to Worry: 27 Tips for Safest Night Driving

    Driving at night can be a travel delight. Your favorite playlist, the open road, a feeling of adventure — what could be better?

    But night driving brings into play some serious safety issues. The overall nighttime crash rate is about one-and-a-half times the daytime rate. Night crashes are statistically more severe, with the fatality rate three to four times that of daylight crashes.

    The main problem is lower visibility. Visual cues like pavement markings and road signs are harder to see. Your depth perception, ability to make out colors and peripheral vision are all worse at night. Older drivers can be especially challenged: A 50-year-old driver may need twice as much light to see as well as the average 30-year-old.

    Another safety issue is fatigue. Our bodies are programmed to get sleepy when it’s dark. If you are a parent taking advantage of young kids’ sleep time to log travel miles, you may be fighting exhaustion.

    Plus, it takes a lot more concentration to drive at night. Here are some tips for getting to your destination safely during your night travels.

    Before Your Night Travel

    1. Have the right tires mounted for the time of year, and make sure they’re properly inflated.

    3. Avoid having to change a flat after dark by checking your tires for wear. Uneven or too much tread wear makes tire failure more likely.

    4. Adjust your headlight beams. The aim can get a bit off over time, when the assembly loosens or your vehicle suspension sags. Follow the instructions in your vehicle owner’s manual or in this video.

    5. Make sure your headlights are clean. If they look foggy or hazy, you can polish them in a few minutes with some toothpaste and car wax to get a lot more light on the road.

    Foggy headlight

    1. Clean your windshield. Glass with smudges or streaks on the inside or dirt on the outside make it even harder to see when it’s dark. You’ll also get tired quicker from straining to see.

    2. Dirty mirrors can increase glare. Clean your side mirrors and adjust them slightly downward so you can keep glare from other cars’ headlights out of your eyes.

    3. Refer to our summer road trip checklist or winter road trip checklist to make sure everything else on your vehicle is ready.

    While You’re Underway

    1. Turn your headlights on an hour before the sun goes down and keep them on an hour after dawn. This improves your visibility to other drivers when the sun is low in the sky.

    2. Stay within the speed limit. You can’t see as far at night. With your low beams on, you can only see a maximum of about 250 feet in front of you on unlit roads. You’ll need that much or more to come to a stop, depending on your speed and the road conditions.

    3. Keep alert by frequently checking all your mirrors. Staring straight ahead for long periods will strain your eyes and lower your attention level.

    4. Don’t fight drooping eyelids or wait until you’re nodding off to stop. Do something to get your blood flowing and increase your attention, like doing a few stretches or taking a short walk. Get yourself a cup of coffee, or even take a short nap.

    Neon sign with coffee cup

    1. Any time you need to stop, pull as far over onto the shoulder as you safely can and turn on your hazard lights.

    2. Clean your windshield whenever you make a pit stop or fill up your gas tank. Extra wiper fluid and a clean towel or some rags are good items to have in a road trip safety kit. Create one for summer and one for winter.

    3. Increase your following distance. Know that feeling when someone is tailgating you with their headlights shining into your rear-view mirror? It’s nerve-racking and the glare in your eyes can make it even harder to see potential problems ahead or by the roadside. Give yourself and others enough space to react.

    4. Watch roadsides for the reflections of animals’ eyes. Slow way down if you spot them. If you see one deer, there are likely others, so go slowly to be sure you’re past them all.

    Deer at night with reflecting eyes
    Photo by Oregon Department of Transportation
    Deer at night Uploaded by AlbertHerring [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

    1. Turn off interior lights. They can create glare that makes it harder to see the road.

    2. Dim your dashboard lights.

    3. Keep your car clear of cigarette smoke. It reduces vision.

    4. Don’t look directly into oncoming headlights. If light from a car coming the other way is blinding or creates glare, watch the white fog line on the right side of the road. You’ll still be able to see the oncoming traffic through peripheral vision while staying in your lane.

    5. Use high beams when there aren’t oncoming cars and it's right for the road conditions (no fog or heavy rain). They let you see about twice as far ahead as your low beams (350 to 500 feet) and expand your field of vision to the road shoulders. You must turn them to back to low at least 500 feet from an approaching vehicle and when you're within 200 to 300 feet of the vehicle you’re following.

    6. Use your fog lights for better visibility if it’s truly foggy, but don’t if it’s not. Using them when it’s clear out is unsafe for other drivers and may be a traffic violation.

    7. Only use any auxiliary lights you’ve mounted on your vehicle if they’re approved for road use. They can blind other drivers and make it hard for your eyes to adjust when you switch down to regular beams.

    8. If your rearview mirror has a night setting, use it.

    9. When you see signs for construction zones, be prepared for redirected traffic lanes, equipment and rough roads.

    10. Be on the lookout for people on foot or bike. Not everyone knows to wear reflective gear.

    Cyclists on the road at night

    1. Put down your cellphone. It’s a dangerous distraction, day or night, and it’s a traffic violation in many states to use your cell while driving.

    2. Above all, be a defensive driver during weekend nights, when there are more drunk drivers on the road.

    Night driving can be a great way to beat the traffic and enjoy a little peace and quiet. Just be prepared and drive smart.

    Get a free pre-trip safety check at any Les Schwab Tires.