Winter Tips for Driving in Washington State

As car accident attorneys in Tacoma, we’ve seen how bad weather contributes to collisions. Here in the Puget Sound, winter months mean wet and icy roads. Unfortunately, not enough drivers take proper precautions. No matter if you’re a long-time resident or just visiting, we wanted to share some helpful Washington winter driving tips.

What Makes Winter Driving Different in Washington State?

First, let’s talk about what makes winter driving in Washington State unique. Understanding these key differences will help you plan ahead.

Black Ice.

Even if the roads look clear, they might not be! Black ice is hard to spot until you hit it and lose control of your car.

How to Navigate: take particular care when driving late at night and early mornings, when temperatures are at their lowest. Slow your speeds when passing through heavily shaded roads, bridges, and tunnels. If you do hit a patch of black ice, avoid overcorrecting your steering wheel.

Heavy Rain & High Winds.

For much of the country, winter means snow. But here in the Puget Sound, expect far more days of rain. Late fall and winter months can also bring windstorms which can down trees and powerlines.

How to Navigate: keep those headlights turned on when conditions are poor. Remember to give other drivers plenty of space on the road. When it comes to driving in bad weather, reducing distractions becomes even more important. Keep your hands gripped on the wheel when it’s windy out.

Differing Weather West & East of the Cascades.

We are lucky to live in a state that has diverse ecosystems and weather patterns. This means you can expect a variety of winter conditions from one side of the mountains to the other. For instance, the coast gets an average of less than half an inch of snow each year. Seattle and the Puget Sound region average about five inches per year. But Spokane? It gets about 45 inches!

How to Navigate: make sure you know the conditions of your destination before you get in the car. There can be a significant variation within a region, too. It might be dry in Tacoma, but snowy in Olympia or Graham. Puget Sound-area drivers may be less experienced driving in snow than Spokane-area drivers. Reduce your speeds and allow extra space between cars.

Take These Steps to Winterize Your Car

Here are some steps to take before winter or the big storm comes:

  • Make sure your vehicle is in good shape. Stay on top of routine maintenance and oil changes. While you’re at it, check the pressure on your tires, and have them rotated if it’s time. Get your car inspected before any long winter trip.
  • Pack supplies. WSDOT suggests packing chains, cell phone (and charger!), blankets, food and water, flares, ice scraper, jumper cables, first aid supplies, and a flashlight.
  • Keep the gas tank full. Fill up the gas tank before the snowstorm hits or you drive off into the mountains. Don’t let the gas level dip below half tank when driving in snowy conditions.
  • Add new wipers. Check the condition of your wiper blades and replace, if needed.
  • Test your chains before you need them. Practice putting on your car’s chains before you’re required to do so, off the road and in the snow. (Side note: if you’re renting a car, you are prohibited from using chains. Plan accordingly.)

How to Be Safe on Washington’s Winter Roads

No matter if you’re dealing with winds, heavy rain, snow, or ice, here are a few things you can do to drive safe on Washington’s winter roads.

  • Give yourself extra time. Allow for extra time when heading out on slick, wet roads. This way, you’ll be calmer when stopped in traffic or having to make an unexpected detour.
  • Reduce (or eliminate) distractions. Bad weather plus texting equals a recipe for disaster. Put away the cell phone, clean up the interior of your car, and select a playlist before getting in the car.
  • Be a courteous driver. Bad weather is the perfect chance to be a polite driver. Let that other driver merge in front of you, turn on your headlights, give other drivers extra space, and use your turn signals.
  • Know the weather before you go. Always make sure to check the conditions of where you’re headed before piling into the car. It’s also helpful to learn what the conditions may be later in the day, too.
  • Know your limits. There may be times when it’s best to not get behind the wheel at all. If possible, delay or cancel your trip, or make use of public transportation.

Additional Resources for Winter Washington Driving

We’d like to end this post by sharing a few helpful resources we’ve found for Washington State winter driving.

  1. WSDOT’s “Winter Driving Guide.” Print and keep this guide in your car. It has websites, phone numbers, and radio stations to gauge current weather conditions.
  2. Seattle’s Winter Weather Response MapDuring winter storms, this map will show where snowplows have been as well as traffic cameras so you can safely plan your trip. (Note, this is for the city of Seattle, specifically.)
  3. Weather Apps. We recommend you install a weather alert app to your phone and have the alerts set to “on” when traveling. NOAA Weather Radar Live & Alerts is free and will notify you of hazardous weather conditions in your area.

If you are unlucky enough to end up the victim of a collision, it is important to know what to do. At Ladenburg Law, we’re happy to provide free advice if you’ve been injured in a car accident. We’re also able to send you a free copy of Erik Ladenburg‘s book “What Insurance Companies Don’t Want You to Know.” To request yours, please call us or use the contact form found at the top of our home page.

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