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Winter can be a dangerous time to be on the roads, but rain or sunshine, the streets stay open, and millions of people continue to drive them every day. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, less than ideal winter driving conditions result in more than 116,800 injured drivers every year, which is why it’s crucial to educate yourself on how to stay safe on the road whether you’re driving or a passenger.

In this guide, MoneyGeek takes you through the necessary steps to winter driving safety, from preparing your vehicle to navigating different winter conditions, keeping your loved ones and even your pets safe.

Key Takeaways

car

Keep up with maintenance checks. Proper maintenance can ensure your vehicle is prepared to handle driving in various winter conditions.

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Practice makes perfect. Practice driving in different weather conditions using open parking lots and spaces to learn how your vehicle handles.

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Stay protected. Make sure your car insurance policy includes proper winter weather coverage, including liability, collision and comprehensive coverage.

Daily Winter Checklist Before You Start Your Drive

Before you jump into the driver's seat of your vehicle this winter, you’ll want to be fully prepared for whatever weather conditions you may face on the road.

You’ll want to have a daily checklist to make sure you are ready. Some items on your checklist are necessary, such as clearing snow off your windshield, but others, such as clearing your exhaust pipes, could be a matter of life and death if not checked daily. Before you shift into drive, follow this checklist.

1

Look at the weather

Winter weather can be unpredictable. You could leave for work in the sun with clear roads and be heading home on inches of fresh snow and ice. Before heading out, check the weather for the day so you can be prepared for whatever winter conditions are coming. If you’ll be driving in the snow, make sure you know how to access your vehicle's winter driving mode or have chains ready in your car.

2

Check your driving route

You can keep yourself and others safe by planning your route before you leave. Using services like Google or Apple Maps can help you prepare for any slowdowns in traffic, accidents or road closures due to winter conditions.

3

Stock your vehicle

There are a variety of tools and supplies that can help you stay safe while driving in winter. Depending on the severity of the weather you face, consider keeping the following in your car:

  • Snow shovel
  • Ice scraper
  • Sand or kitty litter
  • Jumper cables
  • Flashlight
  • Flares
  • Blankets
  • Gloves
4

Clear the exhaust pipe

Perhaps the most important thing you can do in winter before starting your vehicle is to make sure that your exhaust pipe stays clear of snow or ice at all times. If your pipe gets clogged and backed up, carbon monoxide gas will leak into your vehicle, which may cause serious health issues or death.

5

Remove snow and ice from windows

Visibility is crucial in winter conditions. Using an ice scraper, thoroughly remove all snow and ice from your windshield and additional windows. Don’t forget about your side-view mirrors and even your backseat and cargo windows, as you’ll need them to check for cars in your blind spot.

6

Check your roof

If you have driven behind a vehicle with a foot of snow piled on its roof, then you have an idea of the constant stream of snow flurries blowing off a car’s roof can directly obstruct your view of the road. Using a snow scraper or broom to brush off the top of your vehicle is a courtesy to help other drivers stay safe on the road.

7

Clear cameras of debris and snow

In 2018, Congress made it a law that all new vehicles had to have a back-up camera installed. Cameras enhance rear-view visibility. Before backing out of your garage, driveway or parking spot, make sure your cameras are free of debris and snow. This might require you to use a wet towel to remove built-up dirt that has splashed on your camera from driving on wet roads.

Keeping Your Children and Pets Safe

Oftentimes we have more than just our own safety to think about when we’re behind the wheel. If not properly dressed or secured in the vehicle, children can slip out of their car seats, and animals can be thrown around or even out of a vehicle in an accident. Keeping your children and pets safe while driving in dangerous conditions starts long before you get in the car.

Avoid Bulky Clothes
If you’re driving with children young enough to require a car seat, make sure to avoid dressing your child in bulky clothes. While layers of clothing keep your child warm, they don’t allow a car seat to stay properly tightened. If you’re concerned about your child’s temperature, you can use mittens, gloves, hats and blankets over the car seat buckles to ensure they’re secure and stay warm.

Purchase Pet Seat Belts or Gates
When it comes to traveling with your furry kids, there are additional precautions you can take. Consider purchasing a dog seat belt to help your pet stay secure in their seat or a doggy gate that is fitted to the back of your vehicle to limit the animal's space to move around.

Whether you’re driving with a human or fur child, it’s important to practice safe winter driving habits and limit driving distractions.

Preparing Your Vehicle for Winter Weather Conditions

An illustration of a couple preparing their car for the winter. The man is looking under the hood, and the woman is checking a tire's pressure.

Gearing up for winter means preparing your vehicle for the potentially hazardous conditions you’ll face over the winter months. This means checking aspects of the inside, outside and under the hood of your car. You most likely understand the importance of assessing your tires and checking your battery, but there are a number of additional maintenance checks you can do to make sure your car is ready for winter.

Make Sure Your Headlights Are in Working Condition

Recommended maintenance check: every three months

Even though your headlights can last several months or even a year, it’s recommended to check them every three months. The best way to make sure your headlights are functioning properly is to ask someone to stand in front of your vehicle while you turn them on and off. If you’re alone, you can park your car in a dark place, turn on your headlights, get out of your car and check that both your low and high beams are working.

Assess Your Tires

Recommended maintenance check: every month

It’s necessary to check the tread and examine your tire pressure monthly. A well-known trick for checking your tread is the penny test. Take a penny and place it head first into the tread grooves across the tire. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, then it’s time for new tires.

To check the tire pressure, you can use a tire pressure gauge, which you can purchase for $5-15 at your local auto store. You can usually find your tires’ ideal tire pressure on a sticker inside your driver’s side door.

Snow Tires

Snow tires are designed to have better tread and are made with soft rubber that is better for gripping snow and icy roads. If you live somewhere that you’ll spend a considerable amount of time driving in the snow, purchasing winter tires can greatly increase your safety on the road. Snow tires can run anywhere from $100 to $400 per tire, and when properly maintained, they can last three to four winter seasons before you need to replace them.

Checking Your Brakes

Recommended maintenance check: every six months

Every six months, you should check your brake pads to see how worn down they may be. When your brake pads get worn, your brakes start to squeak, and it’s time to have them replaced. If you’re mechanically savvy, you can check your brake pads yourself, but since brakes are a crucial part of your vehicle, it is best to have a professional check them.

Checking Your Window Wipers

Recommended maintenance check: every six months

Windshield wiper blades should be checked and potentially replaced every six months. It’s easy to tell if your windshield wiper blades are fully functioning by giving them a test run. If they leave streaks on your window, it may be time to replace them. If you’ll be dealing with a lot of snow and ice this winter, you can purchase winter wiper blades that are more durable than your average wiper blades.

Installing Chains and Cables

If your vehicle does not have four-wheel or all-wheel drive, you’ll want to travel with a pair of cables or chains. Before winter hits, watch a few YouTube videos or ask your local auto shop to show you the proper way to put chains on your vehicle so that you’re not stuck doing it for the first time in the middle of a storm.

Dos and Don'ts

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Dos

  • Only put your chains on when your vehicle is parked and turned off.
  • Turn off any traction control or anti-skid mode in your vehicle.
  • Practice putting chains on before you drive.
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Don’ts

  • Don't go faster than 35 mph with chains on your tires.
  • Don't lock your brakes or spin your wheels by suddenly starting or braking.
  • Don't drive on bare pavement.

Under the Hood Maintenance

While there are a variety of ways you can prepare the outside of your vehicle for winter driving safety, you’ll want to perform routine maintenance under the hood of your car as well. Your battery, oil, fuses and fluids are under the hood, and they each play a critical role in your vehicle running properly.

Test Your Battery

Recommended maintenance check: every three months

With any electronic machine, the battery is what enables the machine to turn on. A dead car battery means a dead vehicle, and cold winter temperatures require a fully-charged battery to work. You can tell your battery might have a low charge if your car has a hard turning on. Unless you have a battery tester, you’ll need to take your vehicle to a local auto shop to have the battery checked. You should check your battery every three months.

Check Your Wiper Fluid

Recommended maintenance check: every month

You should check your wiper fluids every month to ensure you have an adequate amount. Checking your wiper fluid levels is simple. Open the hood of your car and locate your windshield wiper reservoir. Remove the cap to see how much wiper fluid you have. Most vehicles will provide marks within the reservoir to show the recommended fill amount. It’s best to purchase de-icer windshield wiper fluid during the winter, which helps ice melt quicker on your windshield.

Have an Emergency Plan

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Have two emergency kits: one that you keep in your vehicle at all times to deal with unexpected winter conditions, and a second that you take with you for longer travel, which includes extra clothing, food items and cash.

Even if you check all of the preparation boxes, emergencies can happen. Having an emergency kit in your car can make a cold and unfortunate winter situation easier to navigate. Some recommended winter emergency driver kit items include:

  • Flashlight
  • Warm clothes
  • Non-perishable food
  • $100 cash
  • Extra batteries
  • Snow removal equipment
  • Blankets
  • Gloves and boots
  • First-aid kit
  • Phone charger
  • Easy access to your car insurance information

Car Insurance and Winter Driving

If you reside in a state that experiences harsh winters, you’ll want to have adequate car insurance coverage that will protect you if you’re involved in a winter-related incident. Fortunately, several car insurance options can provide coverage if you’re in a winter-related incident.

Liability car insurance: Liability insurance covers the cost for any damages that occur to a third party or their property if you’re in an at-fault accident. For example, suppose you slide on black ice and hit another vehicle. In that case, liability insurance will cover the damages to the vehicle and any personal injuries to the person driving the vehicle you hit.

Collision insurance: Collision insurance will pay to replace or repair any damage to your vehicle if you collide with another vehicle or object.

Comprehensive insurance: Comprehensive insurance covers everything that collision insurance does not. In the winter months, it may cover incidents such as an icicle falling on your car and denting the hood or colliding with an animal.

While liability insurance is required in most states, collision and comprehensive insurance is optional. When shopping for car insurance quotes, it’s best to understand what options you’ll need to ensure you’re getting an adequate policy.

While it’s illegal to drive without car insurance in most states, if you’ll be driving for a short amount of time or renting a vehicle in the winter, you can opt for short-term car insurance. You can reach out to a car insurance company to ask about short-term options or research the most affordable providers. Rental companies will offer insurance coverage you can take advantage of if you don’t have your own coverage.

Know Your Vehicle’s Capabilities

Every year manufacturers are working to make vehicles safer to operate and adding features that can help with safe driving throughout the year. Many of these features come in handy in winter driving, such as traction control, anti-lock braking systems and adaptive headlights. However, it’s important to be an educated driver on your vehicle’s operating capabilities.

  • Traction control helps to prevent your wheels from spinning on slippery surfaces like snow and ice.
  • ABS or anti-lock braking systems help increase the stopping distance in snow, ice and even muddy conditions.
  • Adaptive headlights increase visibility around hills and curves in low-light by reacting to the car’s speed, steering and elevation.
  • Electronic stability control applies the brakes to individualized wheels and reduces engine power to help avoid spinning out.

To get a full understanding of your vehicle's safety features, spend some time looking through your owner’s manual to familiarize yourself with the capabilities of your car and how they can assist in being a safe driver.

How to Drive in Severe Weather Conditions

An illustration of a couple in their car, driving through a snowy scene.

While new vehicles are becoming more equipped with safety features, winter driving safety relies heavily on understanding how to drive in the most common winter conditions. There are different strategies and techniques to successfully drive in snow versus ice or rain versus wind.

Practice Defensive Driving

Every year, 24% of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on snowy, slushy or icy pavement from cars sliding on the road. The best way to avoid sliding into another vehicle or object is to keep a proper distance from the vehicle in front of you. While the average distance to remain behind a vehicle is three to four seconds, you’ll want to increase it to eight to ten seconds in winter.

Snow

The three keys to successfully drive in snow include slowing down, keeping a safe distance and not slamming on your brakes. It’s also important to remain patient, calm and alert behind the wheel. If your vehicle is not all-wheel drive, you’ll need to manually engage your four-wheel drive. For vehicles that are not all-wheel drive, you may need to purchase cables or snow tires.

Ice and Black Ice

Driving on ice is a scary scenario. Even with the best winter tires, ice is slippery and unforgiving. To ensure your safety when driving on ice, maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you, tap your brakes to slow down, never slam on them and accelerate slowly to prevent wheel spinout.

Black ice forms on roadways when the road is wet, and the temperatures are low. Black ice can be difficult to see, making it even more dangerous to encounter if you are driving full speed. Have an idea of when and where to expect black ice to help you prepare. Black ice typically forms in the early morning or at night, and it is most likely around areas where the sun doesn't shine. One way to prepare yourself for driving on black ice is to practice driving on slippery surfaces, so when you encounter black ice, you know how to handle your vehicle.

Fog

Fog is an underestimated, dangerous driving condition. Dense fog can reduce visibility to the extent that you’re unable to see the front of your vehicle, let alone the road in front of you. If you must drive in the fog, it’s best to keep your distance from other vehicles, use your low-lights and know your driving limits. Oftentimes it’s safer to pull over and wait for the fog to clear than try and navigate the conditions.

Rain

Driving in the rain can be deceptive as a large amount of water build-up could cause your vehicle to hydroplane. Hydroplaning is when your vehicle’s tires lose traction with the road and cause you to slide as if you were driving on ice. To remain safe in the rain, keep your distance from other vehicles, slow down your driving speed and avoid standing water, like puddles.

Sleet

Sleet is when rain turns to slush before it hits the ground and results in a slushy road condition. Driving safely in sleet is similar to driving in the rain and the snow. Slow down your speed and maintain a safe distance from other drivers. Be cautious when driving around corners or making turns.

Wind

Most of the time, driving in the wind is no big deal. However, heavy winds can be as dangerous as driving in a blizzard. Keep your eyes peeled for flying objects and what’s happening around you. It’s best to keep a safe distance from large vehicles that might blow over and slow down your speed. You’ll also want to keep both hands firmly on the wheel in case the wind nudges you around the road.

Bridges, Overpasses and Ramps

Driving on an icy bridge or overpass can be scary. Bridges stay icy longer than your typical roads because they’re elevated and can’t utilize the warmth from the ground, according to the Weather Channel. Just as if you were to encounter ice or snow on the road, keep a safe distance from other vehicles, don’t accelerate quickly or slam on your breaks and slow down your speed when driving on bridges, overpasses or ramps.

Driving Scenarios and What to Do

An illustration of a young woman changing her driver side front tire. 

Many common scenarios can arise when you’re driving. Whether it’s summer or winter, these actionable solutions will keep you and your families safe this winter if you encounter any of the following situations.


What to Do If Your Cell Phone Dies and You Don’t Have a ChargerThis is an icon

If your vehicle is functioning properly, navigate to the closest gas station or local store to purchase a charger. If your car is broken down and your phone has died, you can try waving down another driver, but always be cautious when interacting with strangers.

What to Do When Your Tires PopThis is an icon

Nearly every vehicle comes with a spare tire. It’s important to know where your spare tire is and learn how to install it in case you find yourself with a popped tire while on the road. Should your tire pop, pull over to a safe place off the road and replace the tire yourself or contact your insurance to send help.

What to Do If You Have No VisibilityThis is an icon

If you’re unable to see the road in front, beside or behind you, it’s safest to pull over and wait for whatever is causing low visibility to pass. It’s better to be safe than sorry when you can’t see the road in front of you.

What to Do When You’re Sliding, or Your Car is SlippingThis is an icon

If you’re driving on slippery roads and your vehicle begins to slide, remove your foot from the gas pedal, make slight adjustments to your steering wheel to try and steer the direction of your car and lightly tap your brakes if you need to attempt to slow your car down. Never slam on your brakes or jerk your steering wheel. Slamming on your brakes will enhance the slide.

What to Do When You’re Hydroplaning or AquaplaningThis is an icon

When you are hydroplaning, it’s best to go with the flow of the car. You can keep your foot lightly on the gas pedal and attempt to steer to an open space in the direction you’re already sliding. Avoid over-correcting, slamming on your brakes or quickly accelerating.

What to Do If You’re Caught in a StormThis is an icon

Being caught in a storm can be scary for all parties involved. If you’re driving in a winter storm, slow your speed and prepare for winter driving. You’ll want to leave more space between you and other vehicles. Keep both hands on the wheel, and be gentle on your acceleration and braking. If the storm limits your visibility or you feel ill-prepared to handle the conditions, pull over to the side of the road until the storm passes.

Expert Insight on Winter Driving Safety

MoneyGeek spoke with a variety of industry leaders to provide expert insight on winter driving safety. From how to avoid accidents to new technology that can help increase your safety on the road, our experts weighed in on staying safe on the roads in the winter months.

  1. What is the most common action causing winter driving accidents that can be avoided by drivers?

    High Speeds. Most traffic collisions occur because people are simply driving too fast for the conditions. Additionally, drivers forget or do not know that the handling capability of their vehicle is drastically reduced in winter weather, so it is best to use slower speeds to compensate for poor handling.

    Inappropriate relative speed. Relative speed can be defined as the appropriate speed necessary to allow the driver to recognize a hazard, understand the appropriate response and act in time to avoid the hazard and maintain control of the vehicle.

    The National Safety Council recommends a three-second following distance under normal, clear, dry conditions. An additional one second should be added for every additional hazard. For example, if it is snowing (+one second) at night (+one second) with snow-covered roads (+one second), the recommended following distance between you and the vehicle in front of you is a minimum of six seconds.

    Speeding, or “driving too fast for conditions or in excess of (the) posted speed limit,” is the most common related factor reported for drivers and motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In 2019 alone, there were 9,478 fatalities in speeding-related crashes, accounting for 26% of all traffic fatalities that year.

    Driving while “under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication” is second to speeding. Distraction is reported as a common factor in fatal crashes as well; however, it is suspected that distraction is underreported for a number of reasons. These behaviors are dangerous throughout the year but may be even more so during the winter months due to road conditions. Rain, snow and ice can reduce road traction, increase stopping distances and decrease drivers’ visibility. Additionally, fewer hours of daylight increase time spent driving after dark. Nighttime driving is associated with higher crash fatality rates than daytime driving. All of these conditions make the on-road winter environment even less forgiving of driver errors.

    You can prevent winter driving accidents by reducing your speed and increasing your distance from other vehicles in many cases. Vehicles have less traction on snow and ice. Therefore, stopping your vehicle requires more space and time. Remember that even light snow can cause you to skid out of control.

    No matter if you're on a flat road or steep terrain during hazardous conditions, drive at speeds below the posted limits and focus your attention as far ahead as possible. That gives you more time to react to unexpected situations, such as a car crashing ahead of you.

    If you don't have to drive during severe winter weather, it's wise to stay off the roads. If you must get behind the wheel, allow plenty of time to get to your destination. It's better to arrive late than to increase your risk of getting into an accident.

  2. What is the most important thing you can do to prepare for winter driving?

    Literally, prepare. Do the following things:

    • Check the weather and road conditions.
    • Share your itinerary and route with others, so they know when to expect you.
    • Ensure your tires are inflated properly.
    • Ensure your non-freezing windshield fluid is full.
    • Fill up your gas tank regardless if it’s a short trip or a long trip. Keeping your tank full will minimize condensation, providing maximum engine run time in the event of an emergency.
    • Ensure you have a cell phone charger and keep your phone fully charged in the event of an emergency.
    • Anticipate delays, especially during commute hours.

    There are two things that are important here. First, plan for longer travel times. Give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination so that you can drive at safe speeds based on the road conditions.

    Second, routine vehicle maintenance and inspection to include proper tire pressures and tire conditions go a long way to improving your traction in winter driving conditions.

    First and foremost, never drive unless you are sober and alert, and always make sure everyone in your vehicle is buckled up. When restraining child passengers in their safety seats, remove their coats before tightening the harness.

    Second, plan ahead to give yourself adequate time to arrive at your destination, which will reduce the urge to rush and drive too fast for conditions. Likewise, when possible, know your route to avoid last-minute course corrections, such as quick lane changes or sudden turns.

    Taking these precautions can also help prevent leading crash factors such as failure to yield and running off the road. Additionally, make sure your vehicle is prepared for potential winter weather conditions by checking the tires for adequate tread, inflation and overall condition. It also is critically important that your brakes are properly maintained and in good condition, wiper fluid is filled and your wipers and lights (front and back) are functioning as needed.

    If you haven't given your car a check-up, let a reliable mechanic "winterize" your vehicle. That should include checking your tires, brakes, four-wheel drive, battery, wiper blades, engine oil, anti-freeze, belts and hoses. Remember that your tires' condition is critical for maintaining as much traction on the road as possible.

    Getting into an accident or stranded after a breakdown can be especially dangerous when the temperature plummets. You never know how long you could be waiting for help to arrive. Make sure every driver in your household has a vehicle emergency kit, including:

    • Ice scraper
    • Snowbrush
    • Blankets
    • Water
    • Energy bars
    • Warm clothing
    • Flashlight and extra batteries
    • Shovel
    • Cardboard
    • Kitty litter
    • First aid kit
    • Multipurpose tool
    • Charger for phone battery
  3. What’s the difference between all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive? Which is better in the snow?

    All-wheel-drive (AWD) systems power both the front and rear wheels all the time. There are two types of drivetrains called AWD. One drives all the wheels continuously. Some manufacturers refer to this as full-time AWD. The other one is often called part-time AWD or automatic AWD. It operates most of the time in two-wheel-drive mode, with power delivered to all four corners only when additional traction control is needed.

    (A vehicle’s) 4WD system sends power to all four of a vehicle's wheels to increase traction when needed. (The) 4WD systems are more robust than AWD and it can typically handle more rugged terrain.

    Like AWD, there are two types of 4WD: full-time and part-time. The full-time 4WD operates similarly as the full-time AWD system does — all four wheels receive power on a continuous basis. In some cars, you may have the option to control how power is apportioned to the front and rear axles using selectable modes. This 4WD type is the real traditionalist of four-wheel propulsion. The vehicle is usually driven by two wheels, which is most often in the rear. You'll need to make the decision to engage 4WD when you feel it is needed. It is either push a button or shift a lever.

    In 2018, 45% of new vehicles sold in the U.S. were equipped with either AWD or 4WD, according to Edmunds.com. In states where the winters are cold and snowy, this "take rate" is 90% or higher.

    Actual four-wheel drive is rare today. Four-wheel drive vehicles deliver power to all four wheels at all times — 25% drive to each of the four wheels. Many of today’s vehicles, including some recent hybrid models like the Toyota Prius, have an available “all-wheel-drive system.” They are not four-wheel drive; they are no more than traction control systems. All-wheel drive vehicles have electronic systems that stop or limit the wheels from spinning. These vehicles usually deliver power to one or two wheels full-time. If one wheel loses traction, power is limited to that wheel and may be distributed to a different wheel until traction is regained.

    Actual four-wheel drive, with locking hubs, would provide the best traction off road and in deep snow; however, none of them help you stop! Both systems provide traction for propulsion, and drivers must always be aware of the conditions and their need and ability to stop in time.

    All-wheel drive will generally offer the best option for everyday driving while providing increased traction to deal with typical snow and rain conditions. In general, very few drivers will encounter conditions requiring the full extent of four-wheel-drive capability, and those that do will seek out this option specifically. However, as with any vehicle systems, performance can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and from vehicle to vehicle, so consumers should always do their research.

    There are significant differences between all-wheel drive (AWD) and four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicle technology. In general, an AWD system powers different wheels in variable ways to optimize traction without input from the driver. A 4WD system can be engaged by the driver to send a fixed amount of power to wheels as needed. The best type of vehicle traction to have in snow depends on where you live and how you use your vehicle. If you typically drive unmaintained roads, having AWD can help you quickly handle various winter conditions.

    However, if you drive before roads get snow plowed or in extreme off-road conditions, 4WD can help you get unstuck in rugged terrain. There are variations on both AWD and 4WD technology, so be sure you understand how to use them correctly under different conditions.

  4. How has new technology affected the safety of driving in winter conditions?

    It hasn’t really. The challenge is making the car navigate through suddenly-changing road and weather conditions, particularly in situations with heavy snowfall, fog or rain, where self-driving car sensors and cameras can’t visualize the street’s markers and lane dividers.

    Winter driving poses many challenges. In the northern hemisphere, winter months bring cooler temperatures, and in some climates, snow, sleet and rain. Other hazards often forgotten yet associated with winter months include wet leaves and darkness. A pile of wet leaves can be as dangerous as ice on a roadway. The leaves disrupt traction between your tires and the roadway and can cause loss of control. Winter days are short, and darkness prevails in most areas of North America. Many of us relate to the dreaded days of heading to work in the dark and returning home in the dark. This is important because night driving is more hazardous than daytime driving. Darkness restricts our ability to recognize certain hazards while driving.

    Vehicle manufacturers have implemented several technologies to improve winter driving. For example, Electronic stability control (ESC) helps drivers maintain control of their vehicle by keeping the vehicle headed in the driver’s intended direction. ESC uses automatic braking of individual wheels to prevent the vehicle from spinning out. ESC does not increase the available traction but maximizes the possibility of keeping the vehicle under control and on the road during the driver’s natural reaction of steering in the intended direction in a skid or slide. ESC and all-wheel drive systems both improve the vehicle’s ability to maintain traction in adverse weather and road conditions.

    However, drivers must not become reliant on these systems or overconfident in their ability. Winter driving still requires the driver to select an appropriate speed for the conditions (relative speed) and must be able to stop in time to avoid a collision.

    Electronic stability control (ESC), which has been required in all vehicles since 2011, independently brakes individual wheels to maintain a vehicle’s heading when it detects that traction has been lost or is about to be lost.

    National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that ESC saved nearly 2,000 lives in 2015, the latest data available. New proven technologies must now be required as well to make similar meaningful improvements in traffic safety. Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) have been proven to significantly reduce crashes.

    However, the ability of ADAS features — like automatic emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot detection (BSD) and lane departure warning (LDW) — to prevent crashes under varying road conditions cannot be fully realized until they are required as standard equipment in every vehicle, and (they are) subjected to minimum performance standards. Doing so will ensure that the systems are accessible to new car buyers at all price points and that the systems perform consistently and effectively across makes and models. Currently, these lifesaving innovations are often offered as part of expensive add-on packages that many car buyers cannot afford.

    Additionally, headlight innovations that provide better roadway illumination and are capable of adapting to different conditions are key to improving safety during the wintertime, when it gets dark earlier. Unfortunately, federal standards for headlight performance have not kept up with the pace of innovation. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that very few vehicles they tested had headlights that merited a good rating.

    What we have learned over decades of experience is requiring proven auto safety technology in all vehicles with verifiable safety standards is the best way to ensure the greatest benefit during spring, summer, fall and winter.

    Driving in any wintery weather can be challenging, no matter what vehicle technology you have. Getting safely to your destination depends on a variety of factors, including your skill behind the wheel, your vehicle's safety features and the condition of your tires.

    No matter if you choose an all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive vehicle technology, it's still possible to lose traction when you drive in wet, snowy or icy conditions. No system can help you stop if your vehicle gets out of control.

    If you're not used to driving on slippery roads or with poor visibility during a winter storm, consider getting off the road. Find a safe place to wait for conditions to improve.

    Also, avoid all distractions behind the wheel, such as talking on the phone, chatting with passengers, texting, eating or putting on makeup. The consequences of distracted or impaired driving could be deadly.


Ruth Loehr
Ruth LoehrPublic Information Officer (PIO), South Lake Tahoe California Highway Patrol
Ryan Pietzsch
Ryan PietzschSubject Matter Expert, Driver Safety Education and Training Program Manager at the National Safety Council (NSC)
Cathy Chase
Cathy ChasePresident of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety
Laura Adams
Laura AdamsSenior Education Analyst at Aceable.com

Resources for Safe Winter Driving

There are various resources and organizations dedicated to helping drivers stay safe on the roads in the winter and all year long. From providing tips for safe driving and preparing your vehicle to avoiding distracted driving and teaching teens how to drive in inclement weather conditions, the following resources are valuable to keep on hand.

  • Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety: The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety includes consumer, medical, public health, law enforcement and safety groups and insurance companies who work together to make America’s roads safer.
  • California Highway Patrol: The California Highway Patrol provides valuable information on driving safely during the winter.
  • Insurance Information Institute: The Insurance Information Institute helps consumers better understand insurance, provides resources for winter driving safety and how your insurance can help if you’re in a weather-related accident.
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides safety resources related to driving in variable winter conditions.
  • National Safety Council: The National Safety Council advocates for safety in the workplace and on the roads for individuals who are impaired.
  • Safe2Save: Save2Save is a mobile app designed to assist in stopping distracted driving.

About the Author


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Sara East is a freelance writer and content marketing professional based in Reno, NV. She has more than 10 years marketing experience in public relations, content and digital marketing. Sara has been a published writer for more than 10 years having written articles about finance, business, entrepreneurship, education, travel, real estate, insurance, healthy living, social media, travel and study abroad.

Sara's writing has been published in national news sites including Mashable, The Muse and The Next Web as well as on a variety of blogs. When she's not writing, Sara enjoys spending time with her fur kids exploring the mountains of Reno/Tahoe and enjoying the outdoors.


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