Fall is here, which means winter won't be far behind. With the characteristic holiday travel that ensues — between Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's festivities — a proactive approach is encouraged by many in the automotive industry to be ready for the weather hazards that come along with the season.

"It doesn't hurt to start now. The weather's already starting to change," said Newton Allstate insurance agent Rex Kaufman.

"We sometimes have had snow in October and as late as April," added Paul Nelson, instructor for Premier Driving School in Newton.

Snow and ice are typically the primary hazards of driving in winter, which is why Nelson said he encourages his driving students to always check the forecast and be aware of the conditions on a daily basis during the winter months.

Harvey County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Mark Hardtafer echoed that sentiment, noting that in adverse winter weather, peak traffic hours (6 to 8 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m.) can be particularly dangerous — along with later travel.

"Obviously, your nighttime hours are when road conditions are harder to discern — whether or not they're icy," Hardtafer said.

Though Kansas traditionally sees the bulk of its snowfall in January and February, the highest monthly totals of automotive accidents responded to by the sheriff's office the past two years have been in November and December.

Deterring those incidents, Hardtafer noted one of the easiest tactics for drivers is to proceed with caution in inclement weather, as he said speed is one of the top causes for accidents, slide-offs, etc. in winter months. Giving yourself plenty of time to travel and plenty of time to react are sentiments with which both Hardtafer and Nelson were in agreement.

"The rule of thumb is two to three seconds following distance. When you're in snow and ice, we recommend that you increase that to eight seconds or more and you cut your speed in half," Nelson said.

Kaufman encourages people to drive defensively during winter months to prevent against any incidents on the road. Additionally, both he and Hardtafer stated that making sure you have functioning wipers and reliable tires can help your vehicle in adverse conditions and is something to address before winter weather arrivers.

"Your visibility and the way that you're able to handle your car are going to be probably two of the major things," Kaufman said.

Eliminating distractions and being more conscious of your surroundings is another tactic Kaufman recommended, as negligence in those areas can add to the increased risks in winter months.

For motorists who are involved in any incidents, Nelson noted there are a number of other items that should be kept on hand to help out in such situations.

"It doesn't hurt if you can have some kind of shovel and some kind of sand or cat litter or something in your trunk, should you be stuck," Nelson said.

Additional road kit essentials for the winter months Nelson listed include warm clothes, window washer solvent and an ice scraper. Pre-made kits (with many more items) are offered by AAA, which also recommends the following tips to prepare your vehicle for the harsh winter conditions.

Clean any corrosion from battery posts and cable connections and wash all surfaces with battery terminal cleaner or a solution of baking soda and water. Have the battery checked by a professional to ensure it is strong enough to face cold weather.
Have any engine drivability problems corrected at a good repair shop. Symptoms like hard starts, rough idling, stalling or diminished power could signal a problem that would be exacerbated by cold weather.
Replace worn windshield-wiper blades. If your climate is harsh, purchase one-piece beam-type or rubber-clad “winter” blades to fight snow and ice build-up. Use cold-weather windshield washer solvent and carry an ice scraper.
Inspect all lights and bulbs and replace burned out bulbs. Clean road grime or clouding from all lenses.
Have your mechanic check the exhaust system for leaks and look for any holes in the trunk and floorboards.
Examine tires for tread depth, uneven wearing and cupping. Check tire pressures once a month when tires are cold before driving for any distance.

More information on winterizing your vehicle is available at www.aaa.com.