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Safety Information

Driving in Snow: 7 Tips for Staying Safe

Drive Safe This Winter Season

Snow and cold can challenge even the most seasoned driver. It deflates your tires, decreases your response time, and makes your vehicle harder to control.

Winter means fewer daylight hours and deadlier crashes, says Debbie Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council, an Illinois-based nonprofit that promotes health and safety. Nearly 6,000 people are killed in weather-related traffic accidents annually, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Before you venture out into adverse weather know that you can take precautions to ensure that you arrive at your destination without incident. Here are seven tips for staying safe on the road this winter.

Slow Down  

Driving slowly is the key to maintaining control on snowy or icy roads. All maneuvers – accelerating, stopping, and turning – take longer in inclement weather than on dry pavement.

“Drivers frequently underestimate how long it can take to brake,” Hersman says. “You want to increase that time in order to stay in control. Don’t use cruise control, and if you’re sliding, definitely slow down.”

Apply the gas slowly to maintain traction and leave yourself enough space to slow down at traffic lights, especially on ice. Remember that bridges and overpasses freeze before roadways do. The bottom line: give yourself enough time to go slow. 

Know Your Brakes  

Be familiar with your vehicle’s braking system. Anti-lock brakes have sensors attached to each wheel, so you’ll need to slam hard if you want to slow down quickly. The pedal will vibrate when the system is activated.

Normal braking systems allow the brakes to lock, which stops the wheels from turning, promotes skidding, and reduces the tires’ grip on the road when trying to stop or turn. That means you’ll need to pump the brakes gently to maintain control.

Since a vehicle reacts more slowly in snow, you should keep a longer following distance than you normally would. Instead of three to four seconds, stay eight to 10 seconds behind the vehicle in front of you. Stopping on ice requires twice the distance of stopping when it’s above freezing, according to the AAA.

Keep Rolling  

Don’t stop on ice or snow if you can avoid it. Try to keep a steady pace when rolling into turns, at stoplights, and up and down hills so that you can maintain enough inertia to keep moving.

AAA notes that there’s a difference in the amount of inertia required to start moving from a full stop compared with how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. The organization recommends slowing down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes.

Similarly, AAA warns not to power up hills because “applying extra gas on snow-covered just starts your wheels spinning.” Make sure that you have enough – but not too much – momentum before reaching the hill, and slow your speed once you reach the crest.

Use Snow Tires  

Tires are an essential factor in winter driving because they keep your car on the road. If you lose traction, you won’t have as much control and your vehicle could skid.

If you’re in an area with predictable snowfall, you might want to invest in a set of snow tires. They have a deeper tread that cuts through snow to grip the asphalt. That will help you stop faster, accelerate quicker, and make cleaner turns. For especially heavy snow, invest in a set of tire chains that fit to your drive wheels to provide better traction.

Also, cold weather reduces tire pressure, which could lead to a dangerous blowout on the road or cause a flat that will leave you stranded.

Be Prepared  

The safest way to stay safe on the road is by staying at home. If your trip is not urgent, wait out the bad weather. Pay attention to weather reports and remember that, even if you’ve mastered driving in snow, not everyone else you’re likely to meet on the road is as proficient.

If you must drive in hazardous weather, be prepared. Make sure your gas tank is at least half ful in case you are stranded far from a gas station or need the extra fuel to keep your car heated. It doesn’t hurt to have a supply kit with food, water, blankets, gloves, reflective tape, and an extra cell phone charger on hand. In a worst-case scenario, you could use floor mats or newspapers to stay warm.

 Check the Exhaust  

Forgetting to check your vehicle’s exhaust pipe could be a fatal oversight. When it gets clogged with snow, ice, or road debris and the engine is running, you risk filling your car’s passenger compartment with odorless carbon monoxide.

Always remember to clear the snow away from the tailpipe, especially when digging out your vehicle or extricating it from a snowy ditch. If your car is running while you’re awaiting help, keep the window open a crack.

Promote Visibility  

Wintry weather reduces visibility, which is critical to motoring safety. That’s why the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a national non-profit that issues vehicle safety rankings, has made Good or Acceptable headlights a criterion for its Top Safety Pick+ designation.

“Headlights are a basic but important crash avoidance feature, and that’s why we’ve added headlight performance to our ratings system,” says Russ Rader, senior vice president of communications at the IIHS. “Half of fatalities in crashes occur at night, or at dusk or dawn, so there’s a significant opportunity to reduce crashes if we can help drivers see trouble sooner.  Our ratings are giving auto manufacturers some guidelines on making their headlights better.”  

Keep those headlights clean and consider investing in adaptive headlights that can illuminate what’s behind hard-to-see bends in the road. It also won’t hurt to get a new bottle of windshield washer fluid and fill the reservoir so that you can keep your windshield clear throughout the season. 


US News & World Report. Jaclyn Trop. December 15, 2016.  Driving in Snow: 7 Tips for Staying Safe. Retrieved December 21, 2016, from http://usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/cars-trucks/driving_in_snow_tips_for_staying_safe/.

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