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winter-driving-mapfre-photo-january-2018There is no doubt that the winter months in New England can be an especially tricky time for drivers as they attempt to navigate a variety of unfavorable weather conditions.

From highways and back roads to the coast and mountains, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 17% of all crashes happen in winter weather. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation and MAPFRE Insurance are eager to educate residents on some winter driving practices that will keep you and your passengers safe during this frigid season.

Know your car:

Tires are an extremely important part of your vehicle. Whether you use winter tires or not, it is important to make sure the tread depth is thick enough to create necessary traction,  which can increase your safety and provide peace of mind. The minimum requirement is 2/32″ thick, and ensuring proper tread depth along with ensuring tires are properly inflated could save you time and avoid issues down the road. NHTSA produced a video which highlights these safety measures and provides instruction.

Learning your car’s brakes entails not only knowing what type of breaks your vehicle has, but also how best to use them to efficiently and safely in order to slow down and stop.  For antilock brakes, apply slow continuous pressure on the pedal, as opposed to regular brake systems which may require the driver to pump the pedal slightly. It is necessary to test your breaks during the winter, as each  snowfall can bring different road conditions. In addition, fluctuation in temperatures throughout the day may mean that the roads melt during the daylight and refreeze at night.

Before heading out on the road, make sure visibility through all windows is clear, meaning all snow must be removed from the outside of the car. Also, check that your window defrosters are all working properly. Too often people begin driving before their car has been cleared off. This is extremely dangerous for everyone around you, and could result in a traffic ticket. Although Massachusetts does not have a specific law requiring the removal of snow and ice from a motor vehicle, several state laws, such as “negligent” or “reckless” operation of a vehicle, can be used to reprimand drivers who do not abide.

Know the road:

Adjusting driving habits includes not only changing your speed but also revisiting how you accelerate and decelerate in order to make the roads safer for yourself as well as drivers around you. When driving fast your reaction time to visible road obstacles, such as ice, is greatly reduced which creates danger for those in close proximity– so take it slow. In inclement weather it is suggested that a driver should keep back 8-10 seconds, rather than the average 3-4 seconds, so one can begin to decelerate slowly, which reduces the potential for sliding.

Bridges are usually the first roadways to freeze, and this can be especially dangerous during periods of melting and refreezing. Because bridges are fully surrounded by air, they receive cold from the top and bottom which means when the temperature drops rapidly, freezing can occur much faster than one might assume.

It’s important to respect plow trucks as they work tirelessly to clear the roads of snow and ice, allowing drivers to navigate the roads safely. Visibility behind plow trucks is low, and plow trucks often make sudden turns, drive slowly and overlap lanes. Be sure to keep a safe distance back from plow trucks and don’t crowd them. If it is necessary to pass a plow truck, do so with extra caution as they can produce large snow clouds which further reduces visibility.

Even with extensive winter preparation and cautious driving problems can arise, and the MassDOT Highway Assistance Program sponsored by MAPFRE Insurance is on the job. They offer a variety of services such as help with minor mechanical problems, change flat tires, provide small amounts of fuel and more. The Highway Assistance Patrol drivers monitor some of the state’s busiest highways and turnpikes around Metro Boston, Worcester, Springfield & Cape Cod (seasonal) Monday through Friday during the peak hours of 6:00AM- 10:00AM and 3:00PM-7:00PM.

MAPFRE Insurance wishes everyone a safe and enjoyable winter season!

Written By Patrick McDonald, CPCU, AIM, AIS

Executive Vice President – Business & Clients, MAPFRE Insurance

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