When facing unexpected weather conditions such as hail, sleet or torrential rain, it's important to always take a defensive stance. The following defensive driving tips will help keep you and your vehicle safe.

Always put safety first

Prior to leaving on a trip, review the weather reports to check on any potentially adverse conditions. Do not embark if there is a reasonable chance that you will need to shut down en route. If the conditions dictate, pull off the roadway to a safe area and shut down your vehicle. Look for suitable lodging if the roads are too difficult to navigate for more than a short period of time. Putting safety first means that you're not putting yourself and others on the road in danger. Furthermore, it's important to ensure that you're alert and that your vehicle is in good enough condition to keep driving. If not, seek shelter.

Get your vehicle ready for storm season

Don't wait until after the first sign of bad weather to have your battery, belts, hoses, radiator, oil, lights, brakes, tires, exhaust system, heater/defroster, wipers and ignition system checked. Inspect your tires each time you fill up the tank. Look for bulges and tread wear. Be aware that air pressure decreases in cold weather. Keep your fuel tank at sufficient levels so you can make it to a safe haven and avoid problems with frozen fuel systems. Make sure you have sufficient windshield washer fluid in the reservoir at all times. You should also have emergency supplies such as triangles, jumper cables, food and water in the vehicle. Make sure that all of your windows and mirrors are clean. Clear snow, ice and other debris from the roof, hood, and lights. After starting your vehicle, wait for the fog to clear from the interior of the windows so you will have good visibility all around.

Adjust your speed for the conditions

The slicker the conditions, the slower you need to drive to enable your tires to retain firm contact with the road at all times. Increased speeds can cause hydroplaning and greatly lengthen required stopping distances.

Allow enough space between you and the car in front of you

When the road is slick or covered with snow you want to make sure that there's enough room and time to brake or get out of the way. Allowing yourself enough space can be the difference between sliding to the shoulder and having a critical crash. It's also important to be aware of the cars around you. Knowing if there's a car behind you or to your sides can be important when deciding where to turn to avoid an accident. 

Use your lights and wipers

Remember to utilize safety features before you step into the car. Periodically check your headlights to ensure that they are working properly. Driving with one or no headlights or taillights can be detrimental when other drivers are struggling to see you through the rain, sleet or hail. Checking your headlights and turning them on, even if you see only a few droplets of rain, is a basic way to stay safe. In cases of heavy fog, never use your bright lights and turn on fog lights if your vehicle is so equipped.

In cases of torrential rain and high winds, stop your car in a safe area away from trees and power lines. Do not drive through standing water when you do not know the depth. Stay in your car if you see lightning as a vehicle provides better protection than being out in the open. Do not try to outrun a tornado or other highwind storms. Whenever possible, exit your vehicle and move indoors to a safe location. If there are no buildings nearby, position yourself under a bridge, in a ditch or near a concrete structure whenever possible.