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Equip Yourself for Safe Spring Driving

Most signs of spring are welcome sights: Daffodils. Songbirds. Longer daylight. Cherry blossoms. Crocuses. Bumblebees. Baseball. Lilacs. Warm, sunny days.

A few others, meanwhile, are not so welcome: Potholes. Muddy parking lots and roadsides. Flooding. Active wildlife wandering into traffic. More potholes.

Today’s word to the wise: While you’re out enjoying all the good things that come with spring, be prepared to deal with the potential road hazards that accompany spring weather.

Potholes

Potholes

Potholes—which usually begin as small cracks or wear zones in the pavement that expand due to standing water, freezing, thawing, heat, and the endless grind of traffic—are axle-jolting road craters that seemingly loosen the fillings in your teeth whenever your tires ka-thunk into one.

A 2016 study from the American Automobile Association reported that vehicular damage caused by potholes cost U.S. drivers $3 billion per year. An estimated 16 million drivers each year are affected by potholes, and the average cost of repairs for pothole damage—tire punctures, bent wheels, misalignments, and torqued suspensions—is $306.

Car emergency

How can you avoid the damage caused by potholes?

  • Keep tires properly inflated. Over- and underinflated tires are more vulnerable to damage when they make contact with the ragged edges of a pothole. Make a habit of checking tire pressure.
  • Watch for roadway hazards while driving. Avoid distractions when behind the wheel. Be alert to any warning signs that you’re on a bad stretch of road. One pothole is often a sign that more are lurking ahead.
  • Maintain ample space between you and other vehicles. Keeping a buffer between you and the vehicle ahead of you—one car length for each 10 mph driven is a good goal—allows you to see hazards with potentially enough time to adjust to them. Just don’t overreact and yank your car into an adjacent lane without first verifying that lane is clear.
  • Beware of puddles. What may appear to be just a wet patch could be water-filled pothole of unpredictable depth. If you can safely straddle that obstacle with your wheel, give it a try.
  • Ease up. If you can’t avoid a pothole, it’s often better for your tires to simply let off the gas and straighten your steering rather than hitting your brakes hard and surprising the driver behind you.
  • Maintain ample space between you and other vehicles

Rain and Flooding

The major floods that swamped large sections of Nebraska and other Midwest regions in March may just be a prelude to what lies ahead this spring, according to U.S. weather officials quoted in a report published by Bloomberg.

Melting snow compounded by heavy rains caused devastating flooding throughout the Midwest, which could be "a preview to what we expect through the rest of the spring,’’ said Mary Erickson, deputy director of the National Weather Service. "The stage is set for record flooding from now through May."

Regrettably, a driver in southwest Iowa died after driving his vehicle into a flooded roadway. How can you avoid a similar fate if floodwaters unexpectedly rush into your area?

  • Do not ignore “Road Closed” notifications. The urge to stay on schedule or return home has often led people to bypass warning signs, convinced nothing bad will happen to them. “When you see the barricades up, they're there for a reason,” a safety official said after the March fatality in Iowa. “Don't drive around them.”
  • emergency sign
  • Do not drive on unfamiliar roads covered by water. If you are not acquainted with the level of a roadbed and it is covered with water, it would be a huge risk to drive into it, since it could dip unexpectedly. Most of us have seen TV news reports of people who have made that mistake and had their vehicle become submerged. Don’t take that gamble.
  • Be prepared to escape a submerged vehicle. During a flood event, unpredictable things can happen. Your car may slip off the road into deep water, or water could surge in from some unforeseen location. It is vital that you remain calm in such a situation. Ideally, you will have rehearsed in advance how to respond to such a crisis. Keeping calm is step one.
  • Carry the right emergency tools. Everyone needs a quality flashlight in their vehicle. So why not carry one equipped to address other emergencies, not just beam light? The autoXscape emergency tool from InGear is a prime example. Beyond its three-mode flashlight, autoXscape includes a no-nonsense seatbelt cutter (constructed with high-carbon steel) and pair of strong, window-breaking punches, all integrated into its military-grade aluminum handle. It also includes a mount for your vehicle’s interior to keep it within easy reach. All these extras turn this flashlight into a potential lifesaver.

INGEAR autoXscape

It’s easy to think, “This will never happen to me.” Just be aware the Bloomberg article on Midwest flooding points out more than 200 million people in the U.S., and two-thirds of the 48 contiguous states, are at risk for flooding in their communities this spring, according to Edward Clark, director of the U.S. National Water Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. At least 13 million people could face major flooding, he pointed out. So here’s another word to the wise: It’s good to be prepared for the unknown.

Animals and Pedestrians

Wildlife is much more active after a winter hiatus, and people are out walking more, eager to enjoy the change of the season. Drivers need to be alert to their presence.

INGEAR

  • Avoid distractions. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration points out that distracted driving resulted in 3,450 deaths in 2016 (the year of its most recent statistical overview). In 2015, 391,000 people were injured in crashes involving distracted drivers. Whether it’s texting or excessive attention is given to your navigation system, drivers must remind themselves to keep their eyes focused on the road for all manner of obstacles, including all things on foot.
  • Early morning and late evening. Those are the times of day when animals are more commonly on the move. Elevate your road awareness during those hours.
  • Check your lights. Don’t be that guy driving with just one headlight. Make sure all your lamps are operating at their expected capacity. And to further optimize your visibility, check the health of your wiper blades. Replace them if they are not giving you a clear look after each swipe. Wiper blades can easily deteriorate after a winter’s worth of exposure to grime and salt.

Bottom line

Stay alert. Maintain your vehicle. Don’t rush. Keep your eyes open for wildlife and pedestrians. Stay calm. Make good decisions. Carry lifesaving emergency tools.

 

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It’s time for some car-maintenance action, particularly if you have a spring break road trip planned. Use the following checklist to make your preparations now for uninterrupted good times ahead.

Whenever you head out—short trip, long haul, everything in between—it is a wonderful, wonderful feeling to know you are equipped to handle unexpected events.