BOISE, Idaho — With snow piling up from the Puget Sound in Washington to the Wasatch Front in Utah - and here in Idaho - this is a good time to check your winter driving IQ.
Driving in snow and ice is one of the subjects on which longtime Idahoans claim superiority over residents and transplants from places such as California and Western Washington - where it seems either people are too scared to drive because they don't know how to navigate the snow and ice, or they think they know how to drive in it but, in reality, they don't.
It's not surprising. Western Washington, particularly the Seattle metro area and other lowland areas along the Puget Sound, doesn't often get enough snow that it affects driving conditions. But icy roads can happen whether snow falls or not. And it's happening now.
Regardless of your experience, if you cause a collision, insurance companies aren't likely to be forgiving just because the roads were slick. So your best defense is knowing how to drive in this stuff.
Here are some basic tips.
Give yourself extra time. You can prepare for driving in the snow before you even get in your car. Before you leave, clear snow and ice off your vehicle, and know more than one route to your destination in case one is closed.
Slow down. This should go without saying, but you still see people trying to go 60 when it's below freezing on wet roads.
"Pay attention, leave space, and don't drive too fast for the conditions," said Jordan Cassidy, an instructor with Defensive Driving School in Seattle's University District.
Increase your following distance. If you're a tailgater, good luck if the person in front of you has to slam on the brakes while on ice.
Cassidy said a 10-second following distance is sometimes necessary in icy conditions.
"Normally you want four seconds, but in icy conditions, more is always better," he said, explaining to pick a fixed point, like a stop sign, and when the car ahead of you reaches it, then start counting until your car reaches the same point.
Braking: When you see you're about to come to a place you need to stop, don't wait until the last second. Take your foot off the gas and, if you can, shift to neutral so it takes power away from the drive wheels. Brake slowly and gently.
"You never want to have sudden braking or sudden acceleration," said Cassidy.
All-wheel drive does not make you invincible: If all four wheels are on ice, you're going to slide.
Let your windows defrost before you leave. Use an ice scraper if necessary. Don't try to navigate through a pinhole-sized opening in the frost on your windshield.
Drive with your lights on, even in the daylight. This is good practice even if it's not snowing.
"One of the biggest problems people get into in snowy conditions or any other sort of conditions, is they have the exact same driving habits as when it's nice outside," said Cassidy.
Check your tires. The best move is to get snow tires. But if you decide against that, be sure your regular tires have plenty of tread. And make sure they're properly inflated. Studded snow tires are legal in Idaho from October 1 through April 30.
Replace your windshield wiper blades if they're worn. And make sure your washer fluid is full with nonfreezing fluid.
Check your antifreeze. Make sure it will protect your engine in sub-freezing temperatures.
Bring survival supplies. Nobody plans on getting stuck in a ditch. That's usually when they get stuck in a ditch. Have some food and water that can last you a couple of days if you get stranded, particularly if you're traveling in rural areas. Keep extra clothing in your car. And have a first aid kit.
Have these ready to go in your car:
• Chains (and practice putting them on before you need them). Idaho does not have a chain law for passenger vehicles and light trucks, but Idaho State Police say it is always good to be prepared with chains if traveling in the higher elevations.
• Ice scraper
If you end up in a crash or your car breaks down on the road, stay in your car. Don't assume others can see you or will be able to stop for you if you get out.