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Do you know how to safely drive on steep mountain roads?

The "Mountain State" of West Virginia is both rugged and beautiful, but residents are often challenged by driving on winding, narrow roads that snake down the ridge. As winter weather is only weeks away in most parts of the Appalachians, it's a good time to review some tips for driving in mountainous regions.

Drive only well-maintained and regularly-serviced vehicles

All of the components of your car, SUV or light truck should be in good working order, including the exhaust system, defroster, heater, windshield wipers and, most certainly, your brakes.

Before heading out on a drive through the mountains, make sure to check the levels of your transmission and brake fluids. If it's been a while since the fluids have been flushed and changed, do that now. Once brake fluid gets old, contaminants and moisture accumulate and lower the fluid's boiling level. If you rely heavily on your brakes, the fluid overheats and can lose its efficacy.

Check the tread on your vehicle's tires and keep them properly inflated. Your car's owner's manual lists the correct amount of pressure to inflate the tires for optimum performance. Deviating from these recommendations can cause a dangerous blowout.

Don't travel down mountain roads faster than you can drive up them

Don't zoom downhill like you're Mario Andretti in a Formula One race. If you rely on brakes to keep your car's downhill speed in check, you add unnecessary wear and tear to the brake shoes and other components. Instead, downshift to lower gears as you make your way down the mountainside.

Don't ride the center line

Mountain roads are typically much narrower than most highways, which can make uneasy drivers hug the center of the road. However, this driving technique can be very unsafe when another car rounds the bend and you are halfway in its lane.

Keep in mind that cars headed up the mountain have the right of way

Allow vehicles that pass you enough time to re-enter their lanes. You may have to compensate for the decreased vehicle horsepower that often occurs when you ascend high into the mountains.

Regardless of who has the right of way, drivers should beware of runaway trucks on steep mountain grades. Sometimes a trucker who lost his breaks gets lucky and spies a runaway truck ramp to decelerate the truck's speed. While those ramps can be lifesavers on winding mountain roads, they aren't always available when they are needed most.

Trucks that have their brakes fail while headed down steep mountain passes become speeding juggernauts of death and destruction. There is only one thing to do if you find yourself in this scary scenario — get as far out of the truck's way as is possible without tumbling down the side of a mountain.

Take the steps to protect your right to seek compensation

If you are injured in an accident in the Appalachians involving an at-fault truck driver or other motorist, you have the right to pursue a claim for damages and/or a lawsuit filed in the West Virginia civil courts.

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