If there’s one thing Chicagoans know a lot about, it’s getting through winter. After all, we’re not known as “The City That Works … As Long As The Weather’s Not Too Bad.” Life in the city doesn’t stop just because of a few inches of snow, or because the streets are covered with black ice, or because it’s cold enough to flash-freeze a moose. We Chicagoans are supposed to be a hearty bunch, and that means we hit the roads even when they’re buried under an inch of slush and sleet. Driving under these adverse conditions is a rite of passage for Chicagoans. Though anyone who has been stuck on the Dan Ryan in January can tell you that not everyone is successful at it.
Even the most seasoned Chicago drivers have to be extra careful during the winter months, because accidents are far more likely. Not only can ice and snow make roads slippery, but blowing snow also can reduce visibility and freezing cold can wreak havoc on your car’s engine. No one wants to be in an accident at any time of the year, of course. However, winter can be an especially dangerous time to drive for people who already have insurance issues for whatever reason. To avoid accidents and having to make costly claims during the winter season, here are a few tips to help you avert trouble while driving in Chicago.
Perhaps the most important detail to remember about driving in Chicago in winter is that you need to drive defensively. Although you may be in a hurry, driving aggressively only ratchets your risk of being involved in an accident. Driving defensively and appropriately for the slippery conditions means:
- Leaving extra space between you and the car in front of you
- Staying in your lane, unless you need to change lanes
- Driving at an appropriate speed for the conditions
- Keeping your headlights on to make your car more visible
- Using your turn signals whenever you change lanes or turn
- Keeping to the right if you need to drive slower than the rest of traffic
- Turning on your emergency blinkers if you need to drive much slower
- Never using your cellphone while driving — no matter what the conditions
Be Prepared for the Conditions
Driving during a Chicago winter is fundamentally different than driving in the city at any other time of year. That means preparing yourself for what you’ll find on the road is an essential part of avoiding accidents and breakdowns. Here are some basic tips for preparing yourself and your car for winter:
- Allow your car to warm up for at least five minutes before driving.
- Check your route before leaving through traffic reports or a traffic-monitoring app.
- Give yourself plenty of time to arrive at your destination in case of delays.
- Keep your trunk stocked with emergency gear such as extra gloves, a coat, a snow brush, an ice scraper, flares, a first-aid kit, jumper cables, a phone charger, etc.
- Always wear your seat belt and make sure kids are securely buckled into car seats.
- Be cautious of black ice and know how to deal with it if you encounter it — keep the steering wheel straight, don’t slam on the brakes, allow the car to slide over the ice, and pump the brakes if you begin to skid.
Be Ready for a Breakdown
Cold and icy conditions can be harsh on your car. It’s possible that at some point during the Chicago winter your car might break down. Keep the following in mind in case you end up stranded on the side of the expressway or on a side street:
- If you are able, always get over to the side of the road as soon as possible.
- Turn on your emergency blinkers and call 911.
- Never leave your car unless your life or the lives of others depends on it.
- If you need to get out of your car for any reason, exit on the opposite side of traffic.
- Run your engine for warmth, when needed, but make sure your tailpipe is cleared of snow or ice.
Even if you’re born and raised in Chicago, you’re not born knowing how to drive during a Chicago winter. Follow these tips, and you’ll be able to say with pride that you can handle driving in winter like a true Chicagoan — even if you’re actually in Naperville.