Is Self Driving Technology Safe During the Winter?

As summer turns to winter, the blue skies fade to grey and lighten to a subtle purple. The clouds accumulate in soft blankets threatening to dispel their fluffiness in cold, wet snowflakes. As winter approaches, it is time to start thinking about how the cold will affect your daily life. If you live in a temperamental climate prone to heavy snowfall, harsh winds, and pelting hail, it’s time to think about the possible damages that could occur to your property, the dangers of winter driving, and ways to prevent unnecessary car accidents that could cause costly auto body repair.

What Damages Do Winter Storms Bring?

In 2014, Dr. Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute, said 15% of all insured auto, home, and business catastrophe losses in the U.S. were a result of winter weather. Hail alone causes almost $1 billion in crop and property damage every year according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. It’s important to understand the dangers winter storms are capable of producing and what lingering effects they can have on other aspects of life.

What are the Dangers of Driving?

When severe winter weather begins to show its icy face regularly, more and more attention turns to road conditions. Many people find themselves figuring out the safest ways possible to navigate questionable conditions so they can still get to work.

Anytime you are behind the wheel, it can be dangerous. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that in 2017, there were 34,247 fatal car accidents that resulted in 37,133 total deaths throughout the entire United States. The fatality rate per person was found lowest in the District of Colombia and the highest in the state of Mississippi. In one year, the Texas Department of Transportation averages a crash every 59 seconds.

Driving courses teach new drivers the danger of driving while fatigued or when under emotional distress. Other factors that ramp up danger include poorly maintained roads, drivers not following regulations, poor visibility, congested roadways, construction, and accidents that may have already occurred. One of the most important rules to follow when driving is to drive defensively. Double-check both directions before you pull out. Even if the light is green, glance around to make sure no one is going to run a red. Slow down if it’s wet out or the visibility is low. Stay in the moment and be aware of your surroundings at all times. This last one is key when normal driving conditions turn slick.

When snow and ice cover the road, tires have a harder time keeping traction on the surface. This makes for slippery conditions and more chances for vehicle accidents resulting in more than just simple auto body repair. All of the defensive driving tips given for normal conditions should be amplified in times of snow along with added cautions. AAA recommends several tips for driving in the winter.

  • Maintain Consistent Speed: Drive slower than you think you might need to. It’s better to be too slow than too fast and unable to stop. Accelerate and decelerate gradually. Sudden changes on ice can cause traction to be lost or the front or rear end of the car to slide.
  • Brakes: Understand how your brakes work. Are they sensitive? Do they need a little extra push on a normal day? Do you need to pump them? Do they have advanced technology that pumps them for you? Be confident in how they work so if you need to make quick use, you will be able to appropriately apply the right amount of pressure to avoid spinning out.
  • Hills: When it comes to hills, if you can avoid them, do it. If you must go up a hill, it involves having a balance of continuous forward motion but not powering up too quickly. Consistent speed is the goal in this scenario as well. Use the flat surface before the hill to gain the inertia you need and then maintain that as you ascend. Powering up is similar to breaking too fast. It abruptly changes the speed which can cause sliding.

The best thing to do in winter is to avoid going out altogether. Since that is not always possible, make sure to give yourself extra time to get to your destination, leave extra space between cars, and look out for others on the roadway.

Does Advanced Auto Technology Make Winter Driving Safer?

The short answer by many car industry professionals is no. It is recommended that driving your car manually is the best way to go. That’s why it is important to understand how your car works. Thankfully, there are plenty of organizations out there that are raising money to implement AI technology to prevent some these kinds of crashes. And since an estimated 82% of businesses fail as a result of cash flow problems — they will likely have to secure multiple rounds of funding to accomplish their goals. Some features are great on a normal, clear roadway, but these same features prove to be not as helpful in times of winter weather.

    • Adaptive Cruise Control: This function helps cars stay in their lanes and maintain the correct or requested speed in relation to other cars around. It speeds up to meet the plugged in speed if the road is clear. If there is an obstruction or a car darts in front of you, it is meant to automatically reduce the car’s speed. The lane function senses and looks for the lane lines to keep the car traveling straight. The system functions through the use of cameras. Phil Linck, spokesperson for AAA says, “The problem is if the windshield’s not clear in that area of the lane lines are covered with slush or snow, the system’s not going to work anyway.”
    • Cruise Control: Cruise control came before adaptive cruise control. It is used to maintain a set speed, but the driver has to disengage the function often by stepping on the brakes. While speed may be maintained and less gas used because of steady speed, it is recommended not to use cruise control in winter. Stepping on the brake disrupts the continuous speed and might be too abrupt, causing a slide.
    • 360 Degree View Cameras: Anything that involves a camera in the technology is questionable when mixed with wet conditions. Whether it’s a rear-view drive camera meant for everyday use or it’s part of in-car video systems used in 72% of all state patrol vehicles, the visibility is reduced. Ice, snow, and slush build up to block the view on the camera itself or on whatever objects the camera is meant to sense rendering the image it produces useless to the driver.

While technology isn’t as trustworthy in times of snow and ice, the one thing you should be prepared with is good tires. Good snow tires can go a long way in preventing accidents and minor needs of auto body repair. There are four main types of off-road tires: all-terrain, mud tires, snow/ice, and sand. Of those four, you want to pick the tires specialized for the snow and ice.

All-terrain and mud tires are great for doing what they say. They have large treads to grab rocks and dirt enabling the vehicle to negotiate rough landscapes. The tires are designed to allow the dirt and rocks to spit out from the treads as they roll. In times of snow, the wetness will compact into the grooves making the tread less and less beneficial. The best option is to locate your nearest tire dealer and speak with them about the best available tires they have for snow.

Just Be Prepared

At the end of the day, severe winter weather involves using your best judgment on how to get around safely, especially if you’re driving a sedan that can fit up to three passengers. The weather can be damaging to property and particularly your car, but avoid accidents and any potential auto body repair by being prepared. If you can work from home and avoid the commute, this is all the better. More than 50% of employees work from home a couple of times each week and, understandably, this rate rises in the winter. If the weather is bad, don’t be afraid to work from home. If you do have to leave the house, drive defensively, give yourself more time, and understand how your car operates. Understand advanced technology is useful in some scenarios, but might be better left turned off in others. Drive safe to ensure you will drive again tomorrow.

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