During the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans have largely continued to take road trips. In fact, while airlines and cruise lines continue to underperform, automobile and RV travel has taken up the slack.
In most years, over 75% of travelers use cars and trucks for their vacation transportation, making the automobile the most popular form of vacation travel. In 2020, this percentage may increase, with cruise lines and airlines operating on limited capacity.
With winter travel expected to be only slightly below normal, new drivers will need to be extra vigilant. Traffic could be heavy, especially around the holidays, and a wilder-than-normal hurricane season could mean heavy winds and precipitation for much of the U.S. Here are some city driving tips for new drivers during this winter travel season.
Planning your trip ahead of time is always a good idea. However, one of the most important city driving tips for this winter is to research your destination and plan ahead. Planning ahead is important for a few reasons:
- Travel restrictions: Coronavirus has led to a patchwork of city, county, and state restrictions that will make travel difficult this winter. Depending on your home state and your destination state, you might be required to quarantine before leaving, quarantine after arriving, provide proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test, or obtain a negative test after arriving. If you fail to plan, your winter vacation or trip to visit relatives might turn into two weeks of lockdown.
- Weather and road conditions: Winter weather can be dangerous. Knowing your travel dates and routes will help you track risky storms so you can adjust your plans to avoid them. Moreover, many mapping apps provide traffic and road conditions allowing you to skirt around traffic jams or asphalt sealcoating construction crews.
- Emergency contacts: When you plan ahead, you can inform your emergency contacts about your travel plans. If you run into a mishap along the way, your emergency contacts can provide this information to authorities so you do not become stranded.
After you have made your travel plans, you should remain flexible. Weather and, this year, outbreaks, can intrude on your plans. If you are inflexible in your plans, you could place yourself and your family at risk. Remaining flexible in your plans is one of the most important city driving tips this year.
Outbreaks have been centered in cities and have radiated outward to less populated areas. This is primarily due to the population density in cities being more conducive to viral spread. However, outbreaks radiate outward because travelers to cities contract the virus, then take it home with them.
Although you may place a high value on your winter travel plans, you should keep your safety and health as your highest priorities. Traveling to areas with high positivity rates exposes you and your family to risk. But you could also cause an outbreak in your hometown by bringing the virus back with you.
Fortunately, many hotel and motel chains have loosened their cancellation policies. This means that they will accommodate changes in your schedule so you can remain flexible in your travel plans. If, for example, you decide to change your weeklong trip to the city to visit relatives during Thanksgiving into a quick weekend visit, your hotel will likely allow you to change your reservation right up until your check in date.
If conditions call for it, you should also be open to canceling your plans altogether. While this might seem disappointing, this year has seen a shift in consumer spending from experiences — such as travel and entertainment — to things that can be enjoyed at home — such as home repairs and new electronics. No one can fault you if you cancel your holiday travel plans and invest in home remodeling with new garage doors and cabinets.
Ensure Your Vehicle is in Good Condition
Although it is included in this list of city driving tips, keeping your car in good condition is important no matter where you drive. However, there are a few reasons keeping your car in good condition is among the critically important city driving tips during the winter:
- Tires: Poor tire condition is one of the most common causes of accidents. During the winter, snow, ice, and broken asphalt in cities that cannot keep up with asphalt repair can create hazards that can lead to blowouts and poor traction if your tires are bad.
- Steering: Bad weather combined with busy city driving conditions can lead to accidents if your steering is bad. Defensive drivers try to anticipate potential hazards, but avoiding them is impossible if you cannot steer your vehicle.
- Battery: Cold weather takes a toll on batteries and might leave you with a car that will not start. Roadside assistance in many major cities can be very expensive. Checking your battery before you leave home might save you from being stranded or overpaying for a jump start.
If you are not a car expert, maintaining your vehicle can seem intimidating. However, if you find an automotive service center that you trust, an automotive technician can inspect your vehicle and suggest some repairs or maintenance that will keep your car running at its best this winter.
If Necessary, Replace Your Car
If your car has a lot of problems, replacing it with a used car from used car dealers is one of the possible city driving tips for surviving this winter travel season. Older cars lack some safety features that can protect you this winter during your city driving, including:
- Anti-lock braking system (ABS): ABS works by detecting when your brakes are locked. The system pumps the brakes so you maintain control of the vehicle rather than going into an uncontrolled skid. In icy or wet conditions, this allows you to steer during a panic stop and will reduce your stopping distance in most driving conditions.
- Airbags: Airbags include a sensor that detects a collision and triggers the rapid inflation of the airbag. Airbags have been mandatory in passenger vehicles and SUVs for over 20 years and have saved tens of thousands of lives during that time.
- All wheel drive: Years ago, only trucks had four-wheel drive. Now, all wheel drive can be found in sedans, SUVs, mini-vans, and light trucks. All wheel drive is superior to front- or rear-wheel drive vehicles in winter driving conditions because the drive system provides greater traction and greater weight to reduce sliding.
Fortunately, you can find many resources online to help you find a new or used vehicle that has the winter city driving features you need. Once you narrow your choices down, you should be able to find an auto broker where you can take a few different models for a test drive. Remember, you do not need to buy a new vehicle to get these features. Any vehicle less than 20 years old will likely have some or all of these features.
It might seem strange to include “driving less” with winter city driving tips, but there are a few reasons why driving less in the winter is a good idea:
- Less wear on your car: Many cities use salt or other chemicals on their roads to melt ice. These chemicals can corrode your vehicle. If you want to avoid a trip to the auto body and paint supply store, you might want to reduce your vehicle’s exposure to winter driving.
- Safer: Vehicle accidents caused by snowy conditions result in about 800 deaths and 116,000 injuries every year. In addition to dangerous weather conditions, winter also brings shorter days. Even though most driving occurs during the day, more than 40% of accidents occur after nightfall due largely to poor visibility and drowsy or impaired drivers.
- Poor air quality: A layer of cold air can trap air pollution in a phenomenon called an “inversion.” As a result, all the pollution coming out of your car’s tailpipe can accumulate with pollution from all the other vehicles to create smog. Smog is dangerous for everyone, but particularly children, seniors, and people with breathing conditions.
By limiting city driving during the winter and shifting to public transit, working from home, and cutting down on unnecessary trips, these winter city driving tips can extend the life of your car, reduce pollution, and minimize your risk of injury or death.
Distracted driving is a growing problem. As a result, 49 states plus the District of Columbia have laws against teens texting while driving and 48 states plus DC have laws prohibiting adults from texting while driving.
To understand why paying attention is one of the most important city driving tips, consider an example. Suppose you are driving at 35 miles per hour and you receive a text. You take one second to quickly glance at your phone and two seconds typing and sending an answer. During that three-second distraction, your car travels 154 feet, over half the length of a football field, while your eyes, hands, and mind are focused on your phone rather than the road.
If this were not dangerous enough to pedestrians, bicyclists, and other vehicles, during the winter, your braking distances can be up to ten times farther in icy or wet conditions. Under good conditions, the stopping distance at 35 miles per hour is about 135 feet. This means that under icy or wet conditions, your stopping distance could be over 1,300 feet or nearly one-quarter mile. This means that every second counts and being distracted for three seconds at 35 miles per hour could be deadly.
Not only could you be seriously or fatally injured in a distracted driving accident, you could kill or injure someone else. In addition to that fact weighing on your conscience forever, you could face multiple lawsuits from personal injury lawyers that could bankrupt you.
Although driving sober is one of the most important city driving tips year-round, it is especially important to avoid drinking and driving during winter. In addition to the increased danger posed by drunk drivers due to weather and crowded roads during winter, the holidays bring many more opportunities to drink and drive.
Most states have “per se” drunk driving laws. This means that if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is over the legal limit, you can be charged with driving under the influence (DUI) even if your driving has not been affected. In most states, the legal limit is 0.08% BAC. This equates to as few as two drinks, depending on your weight and metabolism, of:
- A 1.5 ounce shot of hard liquor.
- A 12 ounce bottle of beer or flavored malt beverage.
- A 5 ounce glass of wine.
Most states also have a second component to their DUI laws. If your blood alcohol content is below the limit, but your driving is impaired, you can still be charged with DUI. Some of the signs that law enforcement can use to prove your driving is impaired include:
- Excessively fast or unusually slow speeds.
- Failure to signal or come to a stop.
- Collisions, or near-collisions, with vehicles, signs, or curbs.
- Leaving the roadway.
DUI charges have many consequences, including jail time and fines. There are many other costs that most people neglect to include: bail bond agent fees, drivers license suspensions, and a criminal record that could prevent you from getting a job or renting an apartment. So, while drinking and driving might seem tempting, remember your city driving tips and call a cab, ride share, or friend for a ride home.
Be Aware of Your Health
While it is not necessarily among the typical city driving tips, this winter you should be aware of your health. While public health experts and doctors have a better understanding of COVID-19, they require cooperation from everyone to try to minimize spread and reduce exposure.
Most would advise you to refrain from unnecessary travel. Instead, you should stay at home and avoid unnecessary contact. This not only protects you from contracting the virus, but also removes you from spreading the virus to others. During this time, you can focus on doing things around the home like garage door repair or installing a home theater system.
If you do travel, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a few recommendations:
- Do not travel if you have any symptoms of coronavirus, such as fever and cough, or have been exposed to anyone with coronavirus.
- Limit the number of guests at any gatherings and have gatherings outside, if possible.
- Wear a mask while around strangers and use hand sanitizer or wash your hands after touching anything that does not belong to you.
- Distance from other people when in public places like hotels, gas stations, and restaurants while traveling.
Although winter weather conditions and COVID-19 have complicated travel this holiday season, it does not need to cut off your travel plans. Following a few city driving tips can help you stay safe and healthy this winter. Remember to keep your car in good driving condition and plan out your trip to avoid heavy weather. Follow CDC guidelines about limiting your risk of contracting coronavirus. Minimize distractions and do not drive while intoxicated.
Finally, if possible, limit your travel. While normal travel might not be possible this year, staying safe and healthy will help you keep your family safe and healthy. Next year, after the pandemic dissipates, travel will return to normal.