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7 tips for safe winter driving

Driving takes a bit more thought and preparation in the winter. Don't let the snow and ice put you in the ditch -- or, worse yet, in a serious accident. You can take steps to keep yourself and your family safe this year.

With that in mind, here are seven tips all drivers need to consider before they head out to drive in the snow. Whether it's a daily commute, a trip to the store or a long road trip, there is always room for safety.

1. Make sure you know how your car responds

For instance, a front-wheel-drive vehicle tends to pull the car straight when the back end slips on the ice. A rear-wheel-drive vehicle tends to push the car further into the spin. Knowing how your car responds helps you react accordingly.

2. Learn about your car's strengths

If your car has a lot of ground clearance, you can go through deep snow more easily, but that doesn't help you on the ice. If you have winter tires, that can help you on slick roads, but you could still bottom out in deep snow.

3. Get a tune-up first

Don't wait for something to go wrong in a snowstorm, and don't drive a car that may not be reliable. Go in for a tune-up before taking your car out in a storm. Make sure it is in prime condition and that all important safety systems work properly.

4. Take a moment to clean your car

Never drive until you get all of the snow and ice off of the car. Don't just scratch a small hole in the middle of the window; clear the entire thing. Don't forget about snow on the hood, which can blow back on the window as you drive, or snow on the lights, which reduces visibility.

5. Get the tools you need

Make sure you have sand, kitty litter or something else to give you traction. Pack a shovel and an ice scraper. Throw in a pair of jumper cables. Make sure you have the right tools when you need them.

6. Slow down

This is perhaps the most important safety tip of all. Remember that it's easier to lose control on slick roads. You also can't avoid other people's mistakes as easily. Plan ahead so that you never have to rush anywhere. Give yourself plenty of time, slow down and make safety a priority.

7. Prepare for a crash

Make sure you have emergency items you would want in the event of a crash. These may include coats, hats, gloves, blankets, phones, phone chargers, flares, food and water.

If you do get injured in an accident caused by an unsafe winter driver, you may be able to seek financial compensation for your costs.

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