MoneyGeek Analysis:

Staying Safe in the Most Dangerous States for Winter Driving

Last Updated: 10/13/2022
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While the number of fatalities caused by winter auto accidents fell slightly from 441 to 369 from 2019 to 2020, winter driving can still be hazardous — especially if you live in one of the states below.

To underscore the importance of safe driving this winter, MoneyGeek analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System and ranked the most dangerous states for winter driving. We also explored steps drivers can take to prepare for winter weather and stay safe on the road.

Key Findings:
  • On average, 445 drivers die per year on snowy or icy roads.
  • Michigan is the most dangerous state for winter driving, with an average of 49 deaths on the roads every winter. The next-most dangerous states for winter driving are Wyoming, Alaska and Ohio.
  • Wyoming had the highest winter driving fatality rate of any state, followed by Alaska, Montana and Vermont.

Most Dangerous States for Winter Driving

While most of us can't avoid driving in icy and snowy conditions every winter, some states are more dangerous than others.

MoneyGeek analyzed data from the NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Reporting System for 2018 to 2020 — the most recent data available — to rank the worst states for winter driving. Our ranking of the most dangerous states for winter driving incorporated total fatalities in winter driving conditions, the fatality rate adjusted for vehicle miles traveled in the state and the state's score on our ranking of the states with the safest drivers.

We found that when road conditions included sleet, snow, blowing snow or freezing drizzle, Michigan ranked as the worst state for winter driving overall, while Wyoming had the highest winter driving fatality rate.

Our top 15 list doesn't include some surprising states that experience significant winter weather, like Massachusetts and New Jersey.

15 Most Dangerous States for Winter Driving

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  • State
    Final Winter Danger Score
    Winter Driving Fatality Rate
  • 1.
    Michigan
    100
    0.50
  • 2.
    Wyoming
    88
    1.51
  • 3.
    Alaska
    83
    1.38
  • 4.
    Ohio
    76
    0.46
  • 5.
    Montana
    68
    0.77
  • 6.
    Pennsylvania
    67
    0.29
  • 7.
    Wisconsin
    59
    0.38
  • 8.
    Illinois
    54
    0.24
  • 9.
    Missouri
    52
    0.24
  • 10.
    Nebraska
    51
    0.65

Winter Driving Safety-First Measures That Could Save Your Life

There are life-saving measures you can take to prepare your vehicle for changing road conditions before the sleet, ice and snow hit your area.

1

Get a checkup.

The worst time for your car to break down is in freezing temperatures, so it’s essential to get your car serviced to check for leaks, worn hoses and other maintenance items. Your brakes, defroster, heater and lights should all be working correctly.

2

Reassess your battery.

Battery power drops with the temperature. You want to make sure your battery has enough voltage, amperage and reserve capacity to start on those cold mornings. If your battery is more than three years old, consider replacing it.

3

Verify your auto insurance.

Ensure that you have the best auto insurance policy to protect you in the event of a weather-related incident. Even if you're driving responsibly, some accidents are unavoidable if you and another car collide in icy conditions. Call your insurance provider or verify your plan online to double-check your winter weather coverage. You may want to compare car insurance quotes from several providers if you're in a high-risk winter driving state and your coverage is inadequate.

4

Top off your windshield wiper fluid.

Snowstorms can drain your windshield wiper fluid quickly. Top off your washer reservoir before the first snow hits, and then keep refilling it throughout the season. Late fall is an excellent time to check if those wipers need a replacement.

5

Look down.

Have you checked your floor mats in a while? Are they still in the right place and clear of debris? If not, it's time to clean up and re-secure them. Improperly installed floor mats can get in your way and prevent you from hitting the gas or brake properly.

6

Fill up.

If you're always pushing it to the last mile before filling up your gas tank, winter is the time to change that habit. First of all, you don't want to be stranded in the cold. Secondly, you won't get as far on that last gallon of gas. According to the Department of Energy, in short-trip city driving, a conventional gasoline car's gas mileage is about 12% lower at 20 degrees Fahrenheit than it would be at 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

7

Tread heavy.

You should check your tire tread regularly, but in slick conditions, it's critical. The minimum tread for any road condition is 2/32 of an inch. In winter driving, the more tread, the better. Tire pressure also changes with colder temperatures, so check your owner's manual to find the right pressure and add air if needed.

Essential Items to Keep In Your Car

Like a good Scout, it's a good idea to adopt the motto "be prepared" when it comes to winter driving. Keeping emergency supplies in your trunk is a key part of practicing travel safety. Tuck these items in the back now so they are there when you need them:

  • Spare tire
  • Chains
  • Snow shovel
  • Ice scraper
  • Jumper cables
  • Sand or kitty litter
  • Flashlight
  • Blanket
  • Water
  • Food/snacks
  • Cell phone charger
  • Medications

Before you leave for a ski vacation or a trip to Grandma’s house, you should plan your travel, checking the weather and road conditions as well as your route. Always give yourself extra time to drive slower.

If you're traveling with kids, make sure they’re safely buckled in a car seat. While you may want to keep them bundled up in their winter coat, this can interfere with the fit. Always remove your child’s thick outerwear, buckle them up and then place blankets or coats over the secure harness.

Methodology

To determine which states are most dangerous for winter driving, MoneyGeek analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) for 2018–2020.

Using FARS data, we calculated each state’s winter driving fatality rate adjusted for vehicle miles traveled, as well as the total winter fatalities in each state. We also utilized the results of a MoneyGeek analysis of the states with the best and worst drivers.

To calculate each state's Winter Driving Score, we weighted the factors mentioned above. Total Winter Driving Fatalities was given double weight, Winter Driving Fatality Rate was given full weight and Safe Driver Score was given half weight.

Full Data Set

The data points presented are defined as follows:

  • 2022 Rank: The state’s winter driving rank for MoneyGeek’s 2022 study based on its "Final Winter Danger Score," with a lower rank indicating more dangerous winter driving conditions.
  • 2021 Rank: The state’s winter driving rank for MoneyGeek’s 2021 study based on its "Final Winter Danger Score," with a lower rank indicating more dangerous winter driving conditions.
  • Final Winter Danger Score: Total Winter Driving Fatalities, Winter Driving Fatality Rate and Safe Driver Score were each converted to a 100-point scale and weighted. We based the final ranking of states on that score.
  • Total Winter Driving Fatalities (2018–2020): Driving fatalities reported by the NHTSA where road conditions included sleet, snow, blowing snow or freezing drizzle for the most recent three years of data 2018–2020. This metric is given double weight in the calculation of the final winter danger score.
  • Winter Driving Fatality Rate: The rate of winter driving fatalities per billion vehicular miles traveled. This metric is given full weight in the ranking.
  • Safe Driver Score: The final score calculated by MoneyGeek in its rating of the states with the safest and worst drivers. For this analysis, the scores have been scaled to range from 0 to 100, with 100 being the safest. This metric is given half weight.
State
2022 Rank
2021 Rank
Final Winter Danger Score
Total Winter Driving Fatalities (2018-2020)
Winter Driving Fatality Rate
Safe Driver Score

Michigan

1

1

100

146

0.50

80

Wyoming

2

3

88

46

1.51

54

Alaska

3

2

83

23

1.38

9

Ohio

4

4

76

100

0.46

74

Montana

5

6

68

29

0.77

0

Pennsylvania

6

5

67

84

0.29

53

Wisconsin

7

7

59

72

0.38

69

Illinois

8

10

54

73

0.24

74

Missouri

9

11

52

54

0.24

43

Nebraska

10

9

51

40

0.65

73

South Dakota

11

8

49

16

0.54

16

North Dakota

12

12

47

20

0.70

53

Indiana

13

13

47

61

0.25

79

Vermont

14

14

42

16

0.77

73

West Virginia

15

22

42

27

0.49

59

Minnesota

16

15

41

55

0.32

98

Maine

17

16

39

24

0.56

74

Idaho

18

20

39

23

0.43

55

Colorado

19

19

39

33

0.21

47

New York

20

17

38

59

0.17

97

Iowa

21

21

36

37

0.38

89

Kansas

22

26

33

26

0.28

63

New Mexico

23

25

33

15

0.19

29

New Hampshire

24

18

29

8

0.20

30

South Carolina

25

27

28

4

0.02

3

Oregon

26

23

27

21

0.20

67

Kentucky

27

28

25

18

0.12

57

Washington

28

24

25

25

0.14

75

Arizona

29

32

24

13

0.06

43

Texas

30

29

23

15

0.02

44

Virginia

31

34

23

21

0.09

66

Utah

32

31

21

22

0.23

95

Mississippi

33

33

19

2

0.02

34

Arkansas

34

30

18

3

0.03

38

Tennessee

35

36

16

11

0.05

66

Oklahoma

36

40

16

5

0.04

54

North Carolina

37

35

16

13

0.04

71

Louisiana

38

37

15

1

0.01

47

Massachusetts

39

43

14

17

0.14

98

California

40

38

14

15

0.02

79

New Jersey

41

42

12

17

0.08

100

Nevada

42

41

11

4

0.05

71

Connecticut

43

46

11

5

0.05

74

Delaware

44

47

9

1

0.03

73

Maryland

45

45

8

8

0.05

90

Rhode Island

46

44

8

1

0.04

76

Georgia

47

48

8

5

0.01

80

Alabama

48

39

0

0

0.00

47

Florida

48

49

0

0

0.00

63

Hawaii

48

49

0

0

0.00

69

About the Author


expert-profile

Danielle is a professional journalist with fifteen years of experience covering current events from the 2008 financial crisis to the COVID-19 global economic recession. As a former TV news producer, she focuses on sharing relevant and factual stories that stimulate personal growth and knowledge.

Danielle graduated from the acclaimed University of Missouri School of Journalism with a focus in Broadcast Journalism.

With six out-of-state moves and three home purchases under her belt, she has first-hand experience navigating state regulations, insurance and real estate. She currently lives in Colorado with her husband and a greyhound named Oreo.


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