Fortunately, New Mexico has wonderful weather most months of the year. However, there are a few months in the winter that create hazardous driving conditions. Because bad winter weather is so limited in Albuquerque—and, most of the state—most drivers are unprepared or not comfortable driving in ice or snow conditions. Many drivers continue their driving habits as if the roads were as good as a warm, clear summer day. It is the lack of awareness of the dangers of winter driving by some drivers that causes often-avoidable accidents and endangers everyone on the road. The dangers worsen as you travel north in New Mexico. Areas like Santa Fe, Taos, Raton, and other northern cities get a lot of snow and icy conditions in the winter, and drivers need to proceed with caution.
The key to winter driving is preparation. It is not only cautious driving that prevents car accidents, but also a well-prepared driver. The first item that is key to have in your vehicle is an ice scraper. An ice scraper is perhaps one of the most important winter tools. It is important that all of your windows are clean and clear of ice or snow before driving. Too many car accidents are caused by limited visibility through the vehicle’s windows due to ice or snow. Good visibility equals good situational awareness, which is an important component of safe driving.
Next, it is always wise to have a bag of cat litter or sand in your vehicle. Sand or cat litter is used in case of getting stuck somewhere due to lack of traction between your tires and the roadway. If you do get stuck with your wheels spinning (figuratively and literally), throw some sand or cat litter under your tire to gain traction and get out of the mess you are in.
Along similar lines, carry water in your car, especially if you take a road trip through areas of New Mexico that are more susceptible to icy and snowy roads. If you run off the road or get stranded for any period of time it is important to have water. You can survive a while without food, but water is a crucial element for life and your body cannot make it too long without it. It is not a bad idea to keep drinking water in your car all year round as well.
Preparation is key for a safe road trip. If you are properly prepared for the worse-case scenario you can make a good outcome out of a bad situation.
If you are traveling outside an area where you commonly drive (e.g. you live in Albuquerque, but traveling to Taos), it is crucial to know the road conditions and weather warnings for that area. Car and truck accidents are common due to people driving in areas that have unfamiliar roadway conditions. Weather extremes have become commonplace in the United States, and New Mexico is no exception. Unfortunately, it is extreme weather conditions that are often contributing factors to horrible car, truck, and motorcycle crashes. Death and serious injuries due to ice on roadways (often invisible while driving) is common every winter, but most times the tragedies are avoidable.
Here are some driving tips for winter weather driving. First, drive slowly and with caution. Any time of the year, but most importantly in the winter, you should drive at a speed that is safe and suitable for the weather and roadway conditions. Speeding kills on warm, sunny days, and the likelihood of occurrence only gets greater when weather is poor.
Next, understand that sudden acceleration and deceleration on icy roads is dangerous and can cause you to lose control of your vehicle. Momentum on icy roads is a good thing. Careful momentum can help you keep control of your vehicle. Safe distances from other vehicles on the road will help prevent the need for sudden braking. However, keep in mind, that vehicle spacing is not limited to the front of your vehicle, but in all directions. You need to ensure that you are a safe distance so you can stop in time, but also, that you are a safe distance from the vehicle behind you so they don’t hit you either. Remember, on icy or snowy roads, a vehicle’s stopping distance is extended exponentially.
Lastly, you may just want to avoid dangerous road conditions altogether. Easier said than done, I know. But, when the roads are iced over, maybe it’s best to wait until the sun comes out and melts the ice. I understand that this is not always feasible, but at least think about it before deciding to drive in icy conditions.