Winter Driving and Safety Tips
Rhode Island occasionally confronts winter weather before November 15 or after April 15, but generally, the five-month winter weather season runs between those dates. Motorists should be prepared to encounter winter weather conditions at any time during this period.
How to prepare for winter driving
Avoid unnecessary travel during winter storms. Call 511, or log on to www.tmc.dot.ri.gov to check road conditions before your trip.
- Get your vehicle winterized. Have your anti-freeze, battery, brakes, heater, exhaust system and lights tested. Make sure your tires are in good condition, and consider replacing them if they are nearing the end of their treadlife at the start of the winter driving season. Never travel with less than a half tank of gas. Equip your vehicle with jumper cables, road flares, a shovel, salt, extra warm clothes, sleeping bag or blankets, hat, mittens, and boots, a windshield scraper and a towline.
- Carry a winter survival kit. Include flashlights, blankets, hand/foot warmer packets, first aid supplies, high energy candy or snacks, bright fabric to tie on the antenna for help if stranded, candles to melt snow for drinking water, pencil, paper and cell phone or change for phone calls.
- Notify others of your travel plans. Tell someone where you are going and the route. Report a safe arrival.
Winter driving tips
- Slow down and stay behind the snowplows. The road behind the plow will be the safest place to drive. Allow at least five car lengths between your vehicle and snowplows. Do not pass, especially on the right where large amounts of snow are kicked up (see video courtesy of Colorado DOT). The plows are wide, and sometimes a group of trucks will work in tandem to clear snow quickly, especially on highways.
- Be particularly aware of black ice conditions on surfaces such as bridge decks and entrance and exit ramps.
- Turn on headlights and turn off cruise control settings.
Technology helps, but only to a point. Four-wheel drive, anti-lock brakes and traction control are beneficial advancements in today's cars, trucks and SUVs, but they can't take the place of good driving habits and the need to reduce speed on snowy or icy roads.
- Call 511 or visit www.tmc.dot.ri.gov to get current information on road conditions.
- After the storm, clear all snow and ice from your windows, hood, roof and trunk of your vehicle. This is especially important for drivers of box trucks, tractor-trailers and other large vehicles. A sudden release of snow or ice on the highway can create hazardous driving conditions, cause a crash or damage a vehicle behind you. Clearing ice and snow from your vehicle is not only a good idea, it's a law.
What to do if you are stranded in a winter storm
Stay in your vehicle. Walking from your car in a storm is very dangerous. You can lose your way, wander out of reach and/or become exhausted. Your vehicle is your best shelter.
Keep fresh air in your vehicle. It's better to be chilly and awake than to be comfortably warm and be overcome with carbon monoxide fumes. Keep your exhaust pipe free of snow and run your engine only for short periods of time, leaving a window away from the wind slightly open.
Keep warm without fuel. Loosen tight clothing and change positions frequently. Move your arms and legs, massage fingers and toes; tuck your hands between your legs or under your armpits. Huddle together with others to share body heat. Elevate your feet to improve circulation.
Call 911 if you have a cell phone. Describe your location, the condition of those in the car and what happened. Stay on the line until you know who you have spoken with and what will happen next.
What RIDOT Highway and Bridge Maintenance does to control snow and ice
RIDOT Highway and Bridge Maintenance staff as well as private contractors will clear many miles of Rhode Island state roadway this winter. Maintenance supervisors use technology to guide drivers with updates on weather, pavement and traffic conditions. RIDOT's Roadway Weather Information Systems (RWIS) provide the Department with pavement temperature information. This helps determine when icy conditions may be present and aids in the selection and application of anti-icing and de-icing materials.
RIDOT Highway and Bridge Maintenance uses three techniques to inhibit ice formation and improve the roadway surface for plowing. They include:
Anti-icing prevents the formation of frost and bonding between snow and ice and pavement.
Anti-icing chemicals are primarily liquids applied before or early in a snowfall.
Pre-wetting adds chemical solutions to the salt and sand mixture, causing the mixture to stick to the road instead of blowing off to the shoulder.
De-icing uses chemical or mechanical means to separate ice and pavement.