4 best bits of winter driving advice

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Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and told us more winter was on the way and, as if on cue, wintry weather began blanketing much of the country, ranging from (more) heavy rains in the west to blizzard conditions in the northeast with more snow on the way.

Not everyone can declare a snow day and stay off the roads, so top fuel drag racing champion Doug Herbert has some advice if you need to get behind the wheel of your car. Herbert, whose 12- and 17-year-old sons were killed in a car crash in 2008, is the founder of the non-profit, teen-focused defensive driving program that goes by the acronym  BRAKES (Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe).

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Here are Herbert’s best winter driving tips:

  1. Watch for ice: Icy patches will develop first on bridges and overpasses, so pay special attention to those areas. Look out for what appear to be puddles or shiny spots, even when roads are otherwise dry.
  2. Don’t cruise: A car’s cruise control system can have a hard time on a slippery road and can add power incorrectly. That can result in losing control. Instead, slow down and deactivate all cruise control systems.
  3. Understand ABS: Remember that your car’s anti-lock braking system (ABS) can be noisy when it is activated and operating normally and can cause the brake pedal to vibrate in a way that can seem unusual. Understand what your ABS feels like normally by testing it in a dry, empty parking lot, so you’re not alarmed if it is activated during winter driving conditions. If you do feel the ABS activate, continue to push down on the brake pedal as you normally would, and look and steer in the direction you want to go.
  4. Plan for bad weather: When winter weather hits and you need to get out, be prepared. Make sure you have an emergency kit, as well as a snow shovel and something to provide traction if your car gets stuck, such as kitty litter.

Here are 20 must-haves in your car emergency kit.

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Tara Baukus Mello writes the cars blog as well as the weekly Driving for Dollars column, providing both practical financial advice for consumers as well as insight into the latest developments in the automotive world. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.