We’re already well into the winter driving season, but it’s never too late to learn a little more, or get a brief refresher course on how to handle the cold season's particular difficulties.

With arctic cold fronts dropping down even into the southern parts of the United States, and temperatures going haywire all over the globe, there might be a few new winter drivers out there not well accustomed to the ice and snow. With safety in mind, here are five basic, commonsense tips for better winter driving:

Winterize Your Car

Winterizing your car means making sure your four-wheel drive is working properly, checking your tires for air, and possibly purchasing snow tires if you plan on spending a lot of time out in the snow. You should also buy new windshield wiper blades if you haven’t recently (you should replace them at least once a year) and top off your windshield-wiper fluid. Mix in antifreeze (the correct amount) with the water in your cooling system, or buy and add a premade mixture. And, of course, make sure your battery is charged and working without a hitch.

Increase Your Following Distance

Even if you’re a superb winter driver, others might be less skilled than you out on the icy roads. By increasing your follow distance behind the car in front of you to four seconds or more, you’ll be giving yourself a cushion of extra time to react if there’s a collision or a problem ahead. Extra reaction time is pure gold when cars start to skid and get into trouble. Tailgating (and we don’t mean football parties) is an exceptionally bad idea when the roads freeze over and the snow begins to fall.

Gas Up and Keep Emergency Supplies in Your Car

When you’re traveling any significant distance in the snow, don’t do so on fumes. Make sure you always have plenty of gas. You should also keep extra clothing and boots in the car, as well as an emergency kit. A good winter emergency kit should include:

  • road flares
  • flashlight
  • blankets
  • snow shovel
  • windshield scraper
  • first-aid kit
  • tow and tire chains
  • cell phone charger car adapter (for your phone, of course)
  • winter gloves or mittens
  • whistle (for attracting attention)
  • jumper cables
  • packaged food like energy bars
  • syphon pump (we told you to gas up)
  • bottled water

Gentle Acceleration and Deceleration

You have lower gears in your car, and when the weather turns foul, you should use them. Accelerate and decelerate gently. There’s no need to race your neighbors on the streets. That will just lead to skidding through intersections and the possibility of a terrible wreck. While we’re at it, lots of passing of other cars on icy streets and highways can lead to collisions, bodily harm and possible death. Exercise extra caution and patience when driving in winter conditions. The life you save (sorry for the cliché here) just might be your own.

Practice Snow and Ice Driving

If you can find a huge empty parking lot (like outside a sports arena) that’s iced over or slippery, take advantage of the situation. Spinning brodies and learning how to handle your vehicle as it slips and slides in a relatively safe and controlled environment (the empty parking lot) will help you act with confidence if the real need should ever arise. Once you know how to turn out of a skid (always turn into the skid), you’ll become a much better driver. If you can't practice on your own or with a buddy, you can always sign up for a winter driving course.

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