Tomorrow marks the first official day of winter, although you wouldn't know it. We have had winter-like conditions, including biting cold temperatures, for more than three weeks.

But the official start begins tomorrow, in what is the shortest day of the year.

With winter comes many obstacles, many of them experienced when we are commuting in our cars.

During the recent early freeze, there have been numerous accidents on area roads, a prelude to what's likely to come in the following months.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drivers are 23 percent more likely to be involved in a vehicle accident during the winter than during the summer months.

Here are some tips to help you not become a statistic this winter.

1. Remove snow and ice from your car before driving. This not only helps your visibility but ensures your safety and the safety of other drivers. Don't forget to remove ice and snow from the roof or your car as it has the potential to fly off and cause serious injury to other drivers. Also don't forget to clean off your headlights and taillights.

2. Check your shoes. Removing ice and snow from your shoes before getting in your vehicle helps avoid fogging windows. As they melt, they create moisture build-up, causing fog on the inside. If you forget, turn on your air conditioner for a few minutes which counteracts the fog by becoming a dehumidifier.

3. Slow down when approaching intersections, off-ramps, bridges or shady spots. These all have potential to develop black ice. Due to the difference in the exposure to air and sunlight, the surface condition can be even worse on a bridge or a shaded area.

4. Don't pass snow plows or sanding trucks. These drivers have limited visibility and you're more likely to find that the road in front of them is worse than the road behind. Stay patient and follow behind at a safe distance.

5. Know how to handle a skid. The feeling of temporary loss of control of your car during a skid can be scary. Be prepared and know how to handle a skid during inclement weather. Do not slam on the brakes but rather take your foot off the gas and steer your vehicle in the direction you want to go. Wait for the car to slow down and control to be regained before pressing the gas again. Increasing the following distance to 8-10 seconds will also decrease your chances of hitting another vehicle if you do start to skid.

Bob Urban

rurban@tnonline.com