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Safe Winter Driving: Some Tips and Myth Busting

safe winter driving

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Slip slidin’ around is not a good thing when you are driving. But it’s common when driving in the winter. Winter driving conditions have already hit some states this year. There’s no going back now. For the 70% of US residents who live in cold and snowy climates, we just have plow on through until spring. Sometimes quite literally.

U.S. Department of Transportation says more than 1,300 Americans are killed and more than 116,000 are injured on snowy, slushy, or icy roads each winter. Those of us who are used to driving in it know the common tips for safe winter driving which primarily means, not sliding into other cars, people or things.

safe winter driving

We know it’s safest to just stay home but if you must drive:

  • slow down
  • start and stop more slowly
  • double the distance between our car and the car in front of us than normal
  • stopping with space between our car and the car in front of us and moving up as the car behind us is coming to stop
  • pay even closer attention to our driving and those around us — which means absolutely no distracted driving

And of course we know to:

  • prepare our car for winter including
    • testing your battery,
    • checking your lights,
    • changing your tires or checking the tread on your all-season tires and
    • making sure your wiper fluid is full and rated to -30 degrees
  • keeping an emergency preparedness kit in our car that contains
    • spare tire, jumper cables, reflective gear and tools;
    • flashlight (extra batteries are good too);
    • first aid kit;
    • nonperishable food and drinking water;
    • car charger for your phone;
    • and for winter also include a snow brush/ice scraper, shovel, warm clothing, blankets and perhaps cat litter for traction in case you get stuck.
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A Few Winter Driving Myths We Should Forget We Ever Heard

1. Let your car engine warm up.

Actually you should just get in and drive. While this may have been the case with older cars, you can get in and go in most modern cars. They are are fine to drive approximately 15-30 seconds after the engine has started. (Diesel engines may require a little extra time.)

2. You just need to clear the snow and ice off the wind shield.

Actually for your own safety and the safety of other cars, clear off all as much snow as you can from the hood, roof and trunk of the car. We’ve all driven behind some one who didn’t and it’s like we’re driving in a snow storm with all the snow coming off their car. In some states, you can be fined for driving with excess snow on your car or be held liable for causing a crash from the snow falling off your car.

3. Winter tires are overrated, why bother?

All-season tires, all-weather tires, winter tires; does it really matter? Actually it does. All-season tires are decent tires but not the best for safe winter driving. All-weather tires offer better year-round performance but are more expensive and don’t last as long. The rubber compound and treads on winter tires is engineered to improve grip that helps you stop 30 to 40% faster in winter conditions.

Download our free PDF guide: Safer Driving During Pregnancy

What to do if you hit ice or hydroplane on water

In cold conditions there is always risk of hitting a patch of black ice. It’s “black” because it’s so clear, you can’t see it. This happens when it rains and the temperature drops below freezing or when the snow melts during the day and the road is wet when the temperature drops below freezing again.

  1. Stay calm.
  2. If your are sliding you’ve lost traction so hitting the brakes (or accelerating quickly) could make you spin out.
  3. Look for an open space and steer that way.
    1. If you have front wheel drive or rear-wheel drive with ABS and traction control, ease ON the accelerator.
    2. If you have rear-wheel drive and no ABS or traction control, ease OFF the accelerator.

(Same applies in rainy conditions if you start hydroplaning.)

What to do Around Snow Plows

Don’t drive too close or next to a snow plow. The road behind an active snow plow is safer. When possible stay behind the snow plow. If you stay behind a snow plow, remember that may stop or exit the road so leave plenty of room.

We know they drive slow so when passing use caution. Keep in mind they overlap lanes and make wide turns.

What to Do in a Winter Driving Emergency

If you stall or slide off the road, follow these rules to stay safe:

  • Stay with your car, it’s good shelter and will make finding you easier if you need to be rescued.
  • Don’t over exert yourself if you dig out your vehicle. Take breaks if you become tired.
  • Get out those reflective items to put in or on your car and keep the interior dome light turned on, if possible.
  • Only run your car for short periods of time to stay warm while conserving fuel, otherwise, bundle in your blankets
  • Clear the snow away from the exhaust pipe to avoid asphyxiation from carbon monoxide poisoning when the engine is running.

Safe winter driving and the holidays

Many families choose to travel by car to their destinations during the holidays. Driving has the highest fatality rate of any major form of transportation based on fatalities per passenger mile. Around the holidays with with winter driving conditions it can be even more dangerous than other times of the year. In 2017, 329 people died on New Year’s Day, 463 on Thanksgiving Day and 299 on Christmas Day, according to Injury Facts. Alcohol impairment was involved in about a third of the fatalities.

  • Give yourself plenty of time. Speeding to make up time is even more dangerous on slick winter roads.
  • Keep those emergency kits and presents in the trunk to keep them from being projectiles if you have to make a sudden stop
  • Designate a sober driver to ensure guests make it home safely after a holiday party; alcohol or over-the-counter, prescription and illegal drugs can cause impairment

One more precaution for safer winter driving: before you travel have your car seat checked by a certified car seat technician. 73% of car seats are not used or installed correctly so have the peace of mind before your trip that you have it done right.

Then make sure you and your children buckle up properly and enjoy your travels.

By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004

Copyright 2022 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.

We originally published this post in December 2019. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

© luckybusiness | depositphotos

1 comment

  1. Thanks for the suggestion of taking snow off of the hood of the car as well. It’s been snowing heavily lately and I usually take off enough snow so I could see. My sister got into a car accident because there was tons of snow on the road and she has no idea how to drive in snowy conditions. She ran into a pole and now has to find a car repair shop to fix her car.

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