Approximately 25 percent of all motor vehicle accidents in the United States are attributed to adverse weather conditions (see Collision Facts: Driver Safety Tips for information on some of the other major causes). And most of the ones that result in fatalities (about 70 percent) occur because of the presence of ice and snow. Find out what you can do to keep safe when driving this winter season (for advice on dealing with other seasonal problems, see Holiday Hazards: Cold, Snow and Ice).

Preparing Your Vehicle for Winter Conditions

Driving on snowy, icy, and wet roads can create challenges not only for drivers but also for their vehicles. It is important, therefore, to check and maintain your vehicle regularly in order to reduce your risk for driving-related disasters—especially during the winter months. To ensure that your vehicle is prepared for driving in winter conditions, look for the following:
  • Ensure that the battery is fully charged; if the battery is weak, consider replacing it
  • Ensure that your car’s battery charging system is functioning properly
  • Check all lights to ensure that they are working, Including the brake lights, directional lights, emergency lights, headlights, parking lights, and taillights
  • Check brakes to ensure that they are properly functional and, if needed, adjust them to ensure equal braking
  • Select the proper tires for your car and for the season
  • Check tire pressure regularly and adjust if needed; the pressure drops about 1 psi for every 5°C (9°F) drop in temperature
  • Check tire balance and wheel alignment; adjust if needed
  • Check the exhaust system for leaks and always keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow
  • Check the radiator and hoses for leaks
  • Ensure that your vehicle always has a sufficient amount of antifreeze
  • Check the both the front and back defrosters to ensure that they are properly functioning
  • Check to ensure that the windshield wipers are properly functioning. If they are worn out and old, replace them; fill the washer container with an antifreeze fluid, topping it up regularly
  • Most important, be sure to fill up the fuel tank before your go on your driving trip

Preparing Yourself for Winter Driving

Driving in winter weather can be very hazardous since winter weather is usually unpredictable. Therefore, to ensure that you reach your destination safe and sound you should:
  • Plan your driving in advance, including the main routes and alternative routes
  • Avoid driving if you feel tired (learn more about the dangers of Distraction, Fatigue, and Impairment)
  • Keep updated with reports regarding road conditions throughout your journey
  • Keep updated with the weather conditions for your driving route, as well as your destination
  • Inform someone of your route and planned arrival time
  • Dress warm
  • If you're driving a new vehicle, familiarize yourself with it before taking off
  • Warm up your vehicle before driving off to reduce the condensation of moisture on the windows
  • Remove snow and ice from your vehicle as this hinders visibility
  • Always keep a fully charged cell phone on you

Your Winter Driving Emergency Kit

Always keep a winter driving emergency kit in your vehicle. A well-stocked winter driving kit should include:
  • A bag of salt
  • A snow shovel, a snow brush, and an ice scraper
  • Booster cables (know the Battery Boosting Basics) and properly fitting tire chains
  • Flares, portable flashlights, matches and candles
  • Fuel line de-icer and windshield wiper fluid
  • Extra clothing and blankets
  • A supply of food, water, and batteries
  • A first aid kit (not sure what should be in it? See First Aid Kits: The Essential List)
  • A road map

General Winter Driving Safety Tips

Ordinary drivers will react to the road situation, but a good driver will anticipate the dangers and try to avoid them. Therefore, to be a good winter weather driver:
  • Buckle up
  • Slow down
  • Be alert
  • Be aware
  • Make smooth and precise movements

Coping in Skid Situations

No matter how hard we try to drive safely on wet, icy roads, skidding can sometimes be unavoidable. If you find yourself in a skid:
  • DO NOT panic
  • DO NOT brake
  • DO NOT accelerate
  • Look where you want your vehicle to go and steer in that direction
  • Try to bring your vehicle to a slow, gentle stop
  • If necessary, contact emergency services when you have managed to bring your vehicle to a safe stop

Keep Calm and Drive Safely

Slippery and icy roads can make driving conditions less than desirable during the winter season. So, if you must drive, please follow these tips to prepare both yourself and your vehicle for the winter weather. Being prepared can save you from a lot of frustration and maybe even your life, especially if you are a young or new driver.