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With the onset of winter comes icy roads and treacherous driving conditions in some parts of our country.  Snow, sleet and ice make cars and trucks slide around and greatly increase the distance required to stop your vehicle. Here are five winter driving tips that can greatly reduce your risk of being seriously injured in an auto accident.

1.  Increase Stopping Distance.  By allowing the car in front of you extra room, you give yourself and the car that may be trailing you extra time to make decisions if someone stops abruptly or spins out of control on the road.  Minnesota drivers often will describe winter driving as “steering a boat.”  This means you can forget stop-on-a-dime precision in your turns.  Plan accordingly for sudden stops that may occur while you’re driving.

2.  Tire Tread.  If you don’t have snow tires, at least make sure your tires are new enough that the tread will respond to the icy conditions.  We’ve written before on tire designs and tire wear and how those both impact driving.  Remember that tires are the only part of your entire car that comes in contact with the road – that should be a good reminder of the importance of decent tires.

3.  Wear Your Seat Belt Properly.  Seat belts will save lives, but only if they are worn — and only then if they are worn correctly. Most drivers and passengers never think about proper seat belt fit (or seat belt geometry). Most simply assume if the seat belt is buckled, it will automatically protect you. Seat belts must fit properly in order to be effective.

The lap belt portion must fit snugly across the body structures of your hips. For three-point (or lap/shoulder) belts, the shoulder portion must be snug against your chest and cross at your shoulder. A few vehicles on the road today are equipped with seat belts mounted inside the seat back itself — known as “integrated seat belts” or “all belts to seat”.  These belts provide the safest fit and geometry. Most other vehicles at least provide adjustable shoulder belts (although the range of adjustability may vary). Make sure to adjust your shoulder belt so that it fits properly.  Never let the seat belt cross over your neck and never tuck the shoulder belt behind you.

4.  Recognizing Proper Seat Belt Design.  Some seat belts are not designed properly and simply cannot be worn safely. For example, many vehicles on the road still have two-point (or lap belt only) seat belts. This type of restraint system leaves your torso and head — the heaviest and most vital portion of your body — completely unrestrained in an accident or collision.

Car makers have known of the dangers of lap belt only restraints for decades, but only recently began providing three-point (lap/shoulder belt) restraints in every seat.  Avoid sitting in a location that provides a lap belt only restraint if at all possible.

5.  Avoiding “Lap Belt Only” Designs.  Defective seat belts — those with bad geometry, poor fit or other bad designs — can make injuries worse in an accident. Most drivers simply assume putting a seat belt on automatically makes you safer. However, car companies have known for decades that poorly designed seat belts — like lap belt only designs or seat belts that do not fit correctly — will make injuries worse.

Lap belt only designs cause the upper portion of your body to jack-knife forward in a frontal collision. Jack-knifing in this way will cause severe internal damage (likely to your liver, stomach or bowel) and may even break your back and sever your spinal cord, causing paralysis. Poor belt geometry will permit your torso to slam into the shoulder belt, causing severe damage to your heart and lungs. Geometry that permits the shoulder belt to cross at your neck may also lead to paralysis or death in even a minor frontal collision.

Safety experts pressed for lap/shoulder belts in all seating position for decades before this critical safety feature was finally implemented by car makers. Lap/shoulder belts provide superior crash protection to that of lap belts alone, and present a significantly lesser risk of induced injury; such systems appear to work effectively even for children, and they can be used with child safety seats and booster seats.  Despite this warning, car companies strongly objected to requirements for dynamic testing or comfort/convenience features for three-point, lap/shoulder seat belts in every seating position.

To read more about safety tips for the road, click here.

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