Winter Driving Safety Tips
Winter weather makes driving more hazardous. Here are some precautions you can take to stay safe on the road.
Not only can driving in the winter be stressful and even frightening at times, but it can be genuinely hazardous even for those who are experienced behind the wheel.
The best way to stay safe while driving on icy and snowy roads is to always be prepared and know what additional steps you can take to help you arrive safely at your destination.
Before Hitting the Road
As is usually the case, preparation is the key to safety. Taking time to prepare your vehicle for winter driving means you can worry less about your vehicle's performance and focus on your driving techniques and your surroundings instead.
Prepare your vehicle for whatever winter may throw at it by:
- Keeping up with repairs and not skipping out on maintenance. If your car doesn't sound right or is not performing as well as it should, have it inspected by a mechanic as soon as you can.
- Ensuring that your battery is working efficiently. Your local mechanic can help you with this as well, since they have specialized equipment to test the strength of your battery.
- Making sure your heater is in good working order.
- Topping up your windshield washer, complete with de-icer.
- Checking your tire pressure (cold weather lowers the pressure in your tires)
- Testing all the lights in your vehicle (headlights, tail lights, signal lights - the works)
- Verifying that you have enough fuel (as a rule, try to keep your gas gauge above at least a quarter of a tank at all times)
General Winter Driving Tips
- Check the weather report for your area before departing. If you're leaving town, check the forecast for your destination as well.
- Wear comfortable and warm clothing without bundling up so heavily that it becomes restrictive while driving.
- If you want to remove your jacket or gloves, bring your vehicle to a full stop in a safe location first.
- Make sure the positioning of the driver's seat allows the driver to reach the pedals comfortably and have a full view of the windshield and mirrors.
(Learn more about driving safely in Seat Belts: The 2 Second Fix That Could Save Your Life)
Prepare a Winter Driving Kit
If things go wrong on the road, you may find yourself stranded or stuck. For that reason, it's a good idea to have an emergency kit packed in your trunk or in the back seat.
This kit should include:
- Warm clothing (including gloves, a hat, and a pair of winter boots)
- Warm blanket
- Shovel and tow rope
- Booster cables
- Salt, sand, or cat littler (to aid traction)
- Hazard warning light
- First aid kit
- Non-perishable snacks
- A working cell phone
Winter Weather Conditions
Winter weather always means you should exercise caution while driving, but not all winter weather conditions are the same. What you face on the road can range from cold rain to a heavy blizzard.
Here are some additional precautions to take when facing specific road conditions..
Rain means slick roads, and that means reducing your driving speed to ensure that you don't lose control of your vehicle.
You should also lead additional room between you and the vehicle in front of you. Slippery roads make it more difficult to bring your vehicle to a complete stop, so creating extra distance could go a long way to preventing a collision.
And of course, use your windshield wipers at whatever speed is needed to keep the windshield clear and prevent your view from becoming obstructed.
Ice and Snow
Driving in icy and snowy conditions can be tricky. The snow can hide dangerous ice patches, or even barriers and potholes.
When ice and snow are a factor, follow these guidelines:
- Stay below the speed limit if it is the only safe way to drive
- Try to avoid situations that might require to brake quickly or steer sharply, which can cause you to lose control of your vehicle
- Anticipate when you will need to brake and reduce your speed and apply the brakes gently
- Ease up on your speed when progressing into bends and corners
- Pay attention to the vehicles around you, as they are also at risk of losing control
- Keep your lights on to make yourself more visible
- Make sure your lights, windows, mirrors, and license plates are cleared of snow
A drop in temperature and moisture on the road is a recipe for black ice. And black ice is one of the most treacherous features of winter driving. Not only is it slippery and difficult to drive on, but a sheet of black ice can blend with the pavement and be practically invisible.
If you hit a patch of black ice, remember to do the following:
- Don’t panic - overreacting and oversteering will only make things worse
- Take your foot off the gas and keep your foot off the brake to let your vehicle deaccelerate accelerate
- Keep the steering wheel straight and look where your want to go
- If you feel the back end of the vehicle starting to slide gently turn your steering wheel in the same direction your sliding toward
- If the slide continues and you find it necessary to use the brakes:
- If your car is equipped with an anti-lock braking system (ABS), the ABS will automatically perform a pumping action for you as soon as you firmly apply pressure to the brake pedal
- If you do not have an ABS system, you will need to gently perform a pumping action on the brakes as you ride out the skid
Losing control of your vehicle over black ice can leave you feeling rattled. If you feel the need to pull over and collect yourself for a few moments, take the time to find a safe place to do so, away from other potential hazards.
Getting Snow Lodged
Getting stuck in the snow can be distressing, especially if you're stranded in a somewhat remote location. But there are steps you can take to get through this ordeal safely:
- Don't try to rev the engine to free yourself - this is more likely to create ruts and dig you in deeper
- Try to get unstuck by applying the gas gently then taking your foot off the pedal several times to rock the vehicle slowly
- Sprinkle the sand, salt, or cat litter from your emergency kit around the tires to provide additional traction
- Use your shovel to dig yourself out
- If you're stuck in a snow drift, remain in the vehicle and use your cellphone to call for assistance
The best way to stay safe from hazardous winter driving conditions is to simply avoid them when possible. If there is any indication that you will face inclement weather, consider changing your plans, departure time, or travel route.
If you run into bad weather while already on the road, consider finding a place to stop over until the weather gets better.
Remember, safe driving starts with you. Be prepared, stay alert, and drive carefully.