The first snow of the year is just around the corner. Western Pennsylvania may not get the same amount of snow as our neighbors to the north (who can be punished by lake-effect snowstorms), but we still get our fair share. Add to that the general topography of the region and winter driving in the area can be a harrowing or fatal endeavor even when extreme caution is exercised.

Nonetheless, work is work and we all need to be there, so we sometimes have to make snowy treks even when we’d prefer to stay home. Sometimes we are trying to get home from the job after a storm rolls in at midday.

We all have some experience in driving in snow, frozen snow, ice storms, sleet or rain. Car pile-ups and truck crashes on the highways and major roads are often the leading news stories during a storm. While the only sure way to avoid a winter storm accident is to not drive during the weather event, here are some tips or reminders for when you do find yourself on hazardous roads in the winter months.

Safety first:

Drivers should use their seatbelt at all times. Also keep your windows clear of snow, ice and fog even during short trips. The lights should be on if there is precipitation. The car should be properly maintained so it functions at an optimal level.

Driving:

Slow down and give yourself extra time to get to your destination. It’s also smart to double or triple your estimated braking time and distance. If you have anti-lock brakes you should step hard on the brake; if not, apply lighter pressure particularly at first so the wheels don’t lock-up. Slow down and signal well before you turn. Generally speaking, drive defensively but assume that others are not as cautious. Tap your brakes when it’s safe to do so to check how slippery the roads are and proceed accordingly.

Hills:

While this may be hard in our area, avoid hills on surface or less-traveled roads if possible. Use momentum if driving uphill by gently adding a bit of extra gas to the accelerator before the climb begins. Start down hills cautiously, giving yourself plenty of buffer if you lose connection with the road.

Other things to think about:

Keep a cold weather kit in the car in case you are stranded. Don’t warm up your car in an unventilated area. Have your phone or digital device with you, but do not use it unless you need to report an emergency or are safely pulled off the road. For more tips, please visit the AAA’s website.

In the likelihood that you or someone in your family gets into an accident where there is personal injury and/or property damage, insurance may not cover all the expense. There could also be loss of life or severe injury that results in permanent damage and loss of income. It’s advisable to consult a well-qualified attorney from the area that is versed in personal injury and property damage to see if there is a case.