Be winter-ready: 4 important NW winter driving reminders

With a blast of colder weather coming our way, it might be the time to brush up on some of those driver's ed. lessons when it comes to bad weather.

Every hour and time of day can have different challenges on the road, some you might not have thought of, or haven't thought of in years. 

The mornings and evening this part of winter are especially dark. In late January our days are getting longer, but we still have 15 hours of darkness every day in Washington State. 


A big mistake a lot of us make in the dark, the rain, or other bad weather is using cruise control. While it's a convenient feature, using it wrong can put you and your family in danger. 

"You tend to relax a lot when you use cruise control," says Leo Wadenback of Zutobi, an online driver education website and app. "So you’re much more relaxed you have worse reaction times and that can be a real hazard when driving in bad conditions." 

Waldenback says road hazards can come up without much warning in the dark, especially in rural areas where you can only see as much road as your headlights illuminate. As we get older, our eyes also don't see as well at night. He says in wet, icy, or snowy weather driving needs your complete attention focused on the road. 

In the darkness, you're also more likely to be driving fatigued. Statistics show that drowsy driving can be more dangerous than drunk driving -- and cruise control can make drowsy driving even more dangerous. 

Other places where cruise control isn't the best idea are on winding roads and driving expertrs say cruise control is never recommended below 25 miles an hour, in city driving, or heavy traffic. 


October might be our foggiest month in Western Washington, but the damp weather and long nights this time of year means we still get a lot of fog this time of year too. 

Fog is a cloud that sits on the ground. As a whole, fog can come up on your drive without warning and visibility can drop to near zero. 

The water droplets that make up that cloud you're driving through has a property that can be especially dangerous on the road. The droplets each reflect and scatter light. 

 'That’s really dangerous," Waldenback. "It can actually create glare off of the fog which blinds you as a result as well as other drivers It’s a really common and very, very dangerous mistake the drivers make."

Some of the tips from the online and app from his company, Zutobi, regarding fog is to use the low beam headlights-- even once the sun comes up. Putting more space between you and the car in front of you is also a good and safe idea too. 


If you enter an especially dense bank of fog, don't slam on the breaks. It's far bettter to ease your foot off the accelerator instead. Cruise control is also a bad idea in the fog. About 30,000 crashes a year are fog-related. 

The white reflective line on the right side of highways is called a "fog line" for a reason. Slowing down and driving in the far right lane can help give you maximum visibility of the fog lane and help you make sure you're staying in your lane. 

One of the biggest dangers with fog is when we get temperatures near freezing and below freezing. That's when that fog can freeze and create incredibly dangerous road conditions and the time of day when you might see those iciest conditions might surprise you. 


By the 8 a.m. hour this time of year, the sun might be up -- but that doesn't eliminate all the most dangerous condition of all on the roads: ice. The time right around sunrise is actually the coldest part of the day, and the coldest temperatures can mean the biggest chance for icy roads. 

Stopping distance on ice is about 10 times what it normally takes to stop under normal dry road conditions. If you hit a big enough patch of ice, things that you think will keep you safe like All-Wheel-Drive, can have you spinning out of control or off the road entirely. 

While ice is dangerous, "black ice" can be especially hazardous. Black ice is named actually being transparent, so black ice just looks like a normal dark asphalt road surface. 

And even well into an afternoon that's well above freezing, our low sun angle this time of year means there's even more shady corners on our roads and highway that never see any sunlight. That means some of those shady spots can still be very slick. 

"These often occur on curves and these types of spots they can remain frozen while the rest of the road is not frozen," says Waldenback. "And they remain frozen the longest."

Icy pavement is the cause of more than 100,000 crashes every year -- and almost 40,000 people are injured annually in those crashes. 

The places where icy roads happen most frequently are spots like bridges and overpasses. That's where both sides of the road's surface are exposed to the freezing temperatures. 

Freezing fog is also a dangerous condition and it happens most often when the temperatures are well before freezing - usually in the upper 20s. 

With freezing fog, the water droplets in the fog can freeze on any cold surface the droplets come into contact with. Freezing fog can affect more than roads, it can cause a glaze of ice on any surface even sidewalks or your front stairs. 


Snow here in the Pacific Northwest can be a bit more dangerous here than other parts of the country. I usually refer to it as "wet snow."

Snow can happen well above 32 degrees F, but the warmer the temperature the fatter the snowflakes. Our snow around Western Washington often has a high water content. 

Wet snow that gets compacted by footsteps or car tires can become icy really quickly. It's also heavy and harder to remove from your hood, windshield, or the roof of your car. 

But being able to see properly is crucial to driving safetly -- so don't shortcut safety for you and your family. Take the take to make sure you remove it before you leave home or work. 

"For one part it can blow off and be a hazard to drivers behind you," says Waldenback with Zutobi. "But it also can blow off onto your own windshield. [And don't forget] you should clear your windshield of any ice in your mirrors so you can see properly."

When snow is packed you should drive about half the normal speed and increase the distance between you and the car in front of you. Snow and sleet are blamed for more than 200,000 crashes annually in the U.S. and hundreds of deaths. Cruise control is also a bad idea in snowy conditions. 

Here in the Northwest, our hilly and mountainous topography means even a short drive can have very different elevations. Where it sticks can vary widely. It's best to carry chains, know how to put them on, and be ready to use them if conditions merit extra tractions to make sure your car stays on the road. 

We'll be updating the forecast several times a day and doing Facebook lives about the quickly changing forecast when we call for a Weather Alert Day for our region. But, the next 7-9 days will have several chance for low snow levels, so defintiely pay attention to the forecast on Q13 News for your area to help you and your family stay safe not just for this arctic blast -- but keep us tuned in all winter long. -Tim Joyce