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First Maryland snowfall brings winter's first car crashes

Maryland was hit with its first snowfall of the year recently, and it's a good time to remind drivers of best practices for winter safety.

On the first snow day of the season, Maryland State Police responded to 421 accidents between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. along state highway, which doesn't include crashes in local jurisdictions. Two of these accidents were fatal.

As Maryland drivers settle in for a long winter, consider these six safe vehicle practices before getting on the road.

1. Service the vehicle

Have the vehicle checked for leaks, hose issues or other needed maintenance. Make sure fluid levels, tires, hoses and belts are working properly and check them once a month. Check the window defrosters and replace worn windshield wiper blades. Inspect the tires before getting on the road and keep a pressure gauge in the car to check the pressure on the road if needed. Consider installing snow tires.

2. Check the battery

Battery power typically drops with the temperature, so have a mechanic check the battery for sufficient voltage and inspect the charging systems and belts. If they aren't working properly, replace the battery.

3. Keep an eye on the cooling system

Coolant expands when it freezes, which can damage an engine beyond repair. Maintain coolant levels and have the cooling system checked for leaks. Flush the cooling system if it has been more than a year since the last flushing.

4. Clean the windows and mirrors

Make sure the windshield wiper fluid is full and keep extra on hand. Scrape the full windshield and all mirrors and windows before driving, as well as any snow and ice on the hood that could blow onto the windows.

5. Pack an emergency kit

A standard car emergency kit should include:

  • Snow shovel
  • Ice scraper
  • Sand or kitty litter for traction
  • Jumper cables
  • Flashlight and warning devices such as flares or markers
  • Blankets
  • Cell phone and backup charger or battery
  • Food, water and any necessary medicine

6. Take time, or don't drive

Drivers should plan ahead and leave early if the weather looks rough or could get worse while they're on the road. Make sure to know where the destination is and the best route, as well as potential alternatives. Drive with a full tank of gas. And if there is any doubt the roads won't be drivable, stay home.

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