If you started to allow 10 times more distance to stop your vehicle, you’d probably be the most cautious driver in history.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) reports that stopping in icy and snowy conditions can easily take that long.
According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), more than half a million crashes occur on slushy, icy, and snowy roads each year, causing over 140,000 injuries and 1,700 deaths.
No one wants to become one of those statistics. And with only six states recording no fatal crashes caused by ice or snow in 2021, it’s smart to take precautions to protect you and your family.
To stay safe on the roads during the cold months ahead, follow these winter driving tips.
Winter driving safety starts at home
Take care of your car. No one wants to get stranded in a car, especially during the cold winter months. Keep your vehicle in peak condition with routine maintenance. Have a professional mechanic check for leaks, worn hoses, and other issues. If tires are worn, brakes are marginal, or it’s time for a front-end alignment, don’t wait. Make sure wiper blades are fresh and clean and mirrors are working correctly. And if the heater and defroster aren’t up to snuff, don’t venture out. A minor winter inconvenience can turn dangerous or fatal quickly.
Stock your vehicle. Don’t get caught unaware in a storm. Put supplies in the car to prepare for common winter tasks, like a broom and scraper for removing snow and ice. Pack blankets to stay warm. Jumper cables and flashlights, as well as a cell phone and charger, are useful year-round. Keep emergency food and water in your vehicle in case you get stranded. Recently, hundreds of motorists were stranded on I-95 in Virginia for over 24 hours before they were rescued.
Watch the weather. Before you set out for a long-distance trip, or travel in an isolated area, check the weather forecast. If a bad storm is coming, delay the trip if possible. But if you have to head out, let others know where you’re going and when you should arrive.
Practice winter driving. During the day, practice driving the car on ice or snow in an empty parking lot.
Winter driving safety on the road
The following tips will come in handy when driving during winter weather conditions.
Take it slowly. If the roads are slick or covered with snow, drive slowly—even if you have all-wheel drive. All-wheel drive and four-wheel drive can help when accelerating, but there’s no magic wand when it comes to turning and stopping on slick roads. More driving wheels can’t overcome the laws of physics. And all-weather tires don’t come close to providing as much traction as dedicated winter tires, studded snow tires, or chains. If a mountain road requires studs or chains, don’t drive without them.
Increase the gap. Remember that stopping takes much longer, so increase your following distance to provide a greater safety margin. Don’t be fooled by a road that looks clear if the temperature is close to freezing; black ice can be almost invisible and turn the road into a skating rink.
Know your brakes. Does your car have an antilock brake system? These systems, which have been required on all vehicles since 2013, stop the wheels from locking up. If you do have antilock brakes, apply firm, steady pressure. Otherwise, you may need to pump your brakes gently. (Try practicing in a parking lot to see how your vehicle responds.)
Try not to stop. It’s much easier to keep moving than it is to start a stopped vehicle. If possible, slow down the car so that you can roll through a traffic light once it changes, instead of coming to a complete stop. Slow down well before corners and avoid last-minute braking and turns.
Seize control. Avoid using cruise control when the roads are slippery. Take matters into your own hands. Avoid any semi-automated driving features if your vehicle has them.
Remove snow from vehicles. Finally, be courteous to other drivers. Don’t just clear snow from your windshield. Remove snow from your hood and roof so it doesn’t blow off and blind other drivers or yourself.
We hope you find these winter driving safety tips helpful. Please share any additional advice in the comments below.