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10 Tips for Driving in the Winter

Updated on February 8, 2013
Follow winter driving tips for safety
Follow winter driving tips for safety | Source

The Importance of Following Winter Driving Tips

Did you know that the chances of being in a fatal accident in the winter are 14% greater on the first snowy day of the winter as compared to other snowy days?

Interestingly, this University of California Berkley School of Public Health research also shows that even though chances of being in a fender-bender are greater on snowy days as compared to good-weather days, on average for all snowy winter days, fatal accidents are 7% less likely.

Why is this the case--why are there more deaths on the first snowy day, but actually less on all snowy days compared to clear days? Having lived in areas of the U.S. that experience winter weather for almost all of my thirty driving years, I can say without a doubt that driver behavior impacts safe winter driving.

Here are ten tips for driving in the winter that can make a difference, perhaps between life and death.

The first winter storm carries with it a higher chance of fatal accidents
The first winter storm carries with it a higher chance of fatal accidents | Source

#1 Stay at Home

The number one way to drive safely in winter weather is to not drive at all! By being aware of impending weather conditions, it's best to plan ahead and stay inside until road conditions improve.

If severe weather hits on a work day, consider working from home if possible or rearranging your schedule. Get food, medications and any other needed items ahead of time and plan on staying at home.

Growing up in Connecticut, I vividly recall the February Blizzard of 1978; the governor closed all roads for three days. Everything shut down: schools, work, all driving. Although states don't force road closures for all winter storms, individuals can impose their own shut down, and avoid driving until safer conditions exist.

Don't drive until snow plows have cleared and treated the roads
Don't drive until snow plows have cleared and treated the roads | Source

#2 Wait Until the Roads are Clear

If driving in winter weather conditions cannot be avoided, the next best thing you can do is to wait until the roads have been cleared of snow and ice.

Staying off the roads as long as possible during a storm, not only allows snow plows to do a better job at removal, but creates safer conditions for all drivers. In addition to pushing snow off roadways, snow plows often treat the roads with sand and salt to improve traction and cause melting.

Keep in mind, main roads are almost always cleared first, so plan your trip accordingly, taking care to avoid back roads which still may be hazardous.

#3 Wear Seat Belts

If you're wondering why "wear seat belts" is on a list of safe driving tips for winter, it's because it is shocking how many people still don't wear seat belts at all even though there is overwhelming evidence that they save lives.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Association estimates that 13,000 car accident fatalities can be avoided each year if everyone wears a seat belt. Not to mention, survivors of car accidents who did not wear a seat belt often have far more serious injuries.

With fender-benders and accidents more likely to occur in poor weather conditions, it only makes sense to wear a seat belt, not only during the winter but EVERY time you get in a car!

#4 Reduce Speed

If you must drive on snowy roads, be sure to start slowly and check conditions while driving; get a "feel" for how slippery the roads are and how long it will to take to brake safely.

Keep in mind, four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive vehicles should still drive at reduced speeds. Not only can those types of cars and SUVs still lose control, but drivers of them should remember that not all vehicles are so equipped and need to drive at even slower speeds.

Regarding driving speed, gives the following winter driving tips:

  • Start slowly and test your steering and braking ability
  • Start slowing down three times earlier than you normally would for turning or stopping
  • Reduce speeds to half the posted limit or less in snowy conditions

Reduce speed and increase driving distance in snow
Reduce speed and increase driving distance in snow | Source

#5 Increase Driving Distance

The fact of the matter is, it takes longer distances to stop safely in winter weather, so give yourself space. Winter weather conditions and reduced traction have a definite impact on braking distance.

By Increasing driving distances, not only can you keep from causing an accident, but you can also avoid becoming part of an accident that has already occurred. Additionally, if a car in front of you loses control, it's better to be further back so as to not hit them.

From personal experience, though, no matter how slowly and carefully one drives during the winter, there still are those moments when the car fishtails a bit or doesn't slow down quite as soon as expected. Losing driving control, even for a split second, is an awful feeling. But by leaving a large driving distance between cars, and timing turns so that cars are not on the opposite side of the road, space is left to have time to correct any potential problems without hitting another car in the process.

While driving in the snow, it's best to remain in any tire tracks where the road is visible.
While driving in the snow, it's best to remain in any tire tracks where the road is visible. | Source

#6 Drive in Tire Tracks

Snow on roadways may be unavoidable, especially during winter months with frequent snowfalls and freezing temperatures.

Unusually heavy snowfalls during the winter of 2007-2008, caused the town where I currently live north of Chicago, as well as many others, to actually run out of salt. The roads were a mess for a long time. Driving in tire tracks worn down to the pavement was the safest way to get around.

Driving west of St. Louis a couple years ago, I encountered a snow storm that I knew was pretty small and I would drive out of soon. I was shocked though, as I drove along slowly in the non-snowy tire tracks made by the truck in front of me, to see at least fifteen cars and trucks that had slid off Highway 44, some even overturned. Not only did these drivers not slow down, but I watched one careen off as it left the less slippery tire tracks in order to switch lanes.

#7 Practice Driving in the Snow

While practicing driving in the snow may not make you a perfect driver, it certainly makes you a better winter driver. It's especially important to take inexperienced teenage drivers to an empty snow-covered parking lot and let them practice.

Two good things to practice are:

  • Using the anti-lock brakes
  • Getting out of a spin

What I like to do is to increase my speed and then put on the anti-lock brakes, holding the brake down and not letting up. Not only will you get used to the expected thud noise the anti-lock brakes make, but you will experience how long it takes your car to come to a complete stop.

If your car spins or fishtails, you don't want to make it worse by steering the wrong way or over-steering. By practicing ahead of time, hopefully getting out of a spin will be second nature if it occurs on the road.

#8 Take a Winter Driving Class

Not only are winter driving classes educational, but they can be really fun too. Winter driving schools are offered in snowy climates all over the country, arming their students with knowledge and practice.

The Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, featured in the video below, is an excellent place to learn winter driving skills.

Be sure and watch the video below; it's really interesting!

Bridgestone Winter Driving School

#9 Prepare Your Car for Winter

Before the first snow storm of the season, take the time to get your car ready for the winter. Making sure that your car is in optimal condition for winter driving can keep you safe and may even prevent an accident.

Winter car preparation tips (NHTSA):

  • Check the battery, belts and hoses
  • Make sure coolant can withstand winter temperatures
  • Fill up windshield washer fluid with a high quality fluid that doesn't freeze
  • Replace worn wipers and make sure window defrosters work
  • Inspect tires for good tread; replace tires if necessary or add chains

Winter Driving Kit

Keep a winter driving kit in the car with supplies to help remove snow and keep you warm
Keep a winter driving kit in the car with supplies to help remove snow and keep you warm | Source

Winter Driving Accidents

Have you ever been in a car accident because of snow or ice?

See results

#10 Prepare a Winter Driving Kit

Being prepared isn't just for Boy Scouts. Putting together a winter driving kit only takes a little bit of time to do, but can pay big dividends if it is needed.

In the event you are stuck in your car for a prolonged period of time during cold temperatures, a snow storm or blizzard, you will want to be sure and include the following items in your winter driving kit:

  • Ice scraper, de-icing fluid
  • Kitty litter or sand (for traction)
  • Shovel
  • Blankets, gloves, and other items to keep you warm
  • Flashlight, flares,
  • Jumper cables
  • Cell phone charger for car
  • Full tank of gas


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    • liamhubpages profile image


      6 years ago

      I just love the winter and driving in the cold winter months, it is a special thrill, although one needs to always be careful!

    • cyoung35 profile image

      Chad Young 

      7 years ago from Corona, CA

      Great tips. My daughter goes to school in Albany New York and we've never had to deal with snowy weather here in Southern CA. She wants us to bring her car to her next year and this article makes me realize there is NO WAY we are going to let a 19 year old with only a couple years of sunny weather driving try and drive in snow during the cold winter weather up there.

      There is more to driving in snow than there is driving in a rain storm. Thank you for the informative information because there are some that have no choice.

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      Heidi, The most afraid I've ever been driving was on ice in Dallas. Not only were the roads not treated, but no one really seemed to slow down enough. I cannot imagine how awful the cab driver must have been. I probably would have gotten out and walked.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      8 years ago from Chicago Area

      Kristin, we were just talking about snow here in Chi-town. Then I see this hub of yours. How timely! Good advice.

      I was once in Dallas during an ice storm. My cab driver from the hotel to the convention center didn't know how to drive in the stuff. I almost wanted to grab the wheel and let him be the passenger. :)

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks for adding those two really good winter driving tips to the list, chefmancave. I think you're right, they are often overlooked.

    • chefmancave profile image

      Robert Loescher 

      8 years ago from Michigan

      ktrapp...Great Hub.

      Here are a couple of suggestions that people often miss.

      1) Turn your lights on. Sounds simple but I can't believe the number of cars without their lights on in the middle of a snowstorm.

      2) 4-wheel drive does NOT mean 4-wheel stop.

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      healthylife2 - Three feet of snow is unbelievable and the piles plowed to the side of the road must be unbelievably high. How nice that you can keep your driving to a minimum. When I was a kid in CT we had tons of snow days and delayed openings. On those days it was so much fun, but on the downside we were often still going to school well into June. Thanks for your comment and vote.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I really appreciate these driving tips especially after the blizzard last week that left three feet of snow. It sounds similar to the blizzard you described from 1978 because everything was closed down for three days and even today it's not easy being on the road because the drifts are piled so high and the roads still narrow. I'm following your tip to stay off the road today other than getting the kids from school and great idea to prepare a winter driving kit. I wish more people would follow your tip to reduce speed. Voted up!

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      Peggy, You're very lucky to not have to concern yourself with driving in snowy/icy conditions. My husband works in IT and I do web design work so we both are very fortunate to have the luxury of working remotely from home as necessary. As an example, we had a fairly large snowstorm last Thursday, and my husband came home at noon before road conditions got too bad and finished the work day from home. On the flipside, on Valentine's Day 1990 it took him over 8 hours to get home when a big snowstorm hit Chicago!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Great photos of snowy road conditions and very good tips about how to safely drive during snowy weather conditions. Fortunately we rarely have to contend with snow and ice covered roads in Houston, Texas. On the rare occasion we get some snow flurries...many years in between with nary a snowflake to be never amounts to much. Up and useful votes.

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      DIYmommy - How lucky that your husband was able to avoid that accident and that no one was hurt even though there was extensive damage. I mentioned the Feb. 1987 blizzard in CT early in this article, but now I'm wondering if the snowfall totals were surpassed after this last weekend's storm. But I'm with you, I am amazed at how recklessly people drive in the snow. Just the other day after a large snowstorm we had in Chicago I watched a young driver going extremely fast down the road (even too fast if there was no snow) and he swerved all over the place. I was shoveling snow at the end of my driveway and had to step way back for fear he would lose even more control and land in my driveway. I seriously think I fear other drivers more than I do the actual snow. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    • DIYmommy profile image


      8 years ago

      Thanks for great hub! I love the pictures. Hopefully a few people found this hub prior to the NorthEast's bombardment by their winter storm this weekend. Though my husband and I live in Pennsylvania, and we only received about 1-3 inches on the outskirts of the storm, my husband encountered quite the accident when coming home from work on Friday night. Just about 5 feet in front of him, a Chevy lost control on the slippery highway, and slammed into the side of a BMW. My husband just missed being involved in the crash, but, pulled over to the side of the road, through on his 4-ways, and checked all the passengers of both vehicles. For the damage that was done, he told me that he was surprised that noone was hurt. It's always important to be extra safe while driving in the winter. It never ceases to amaze me just how recklessly some can drive during that time--driving like that really can put other's lives in serious jeopardy.

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      HaHa CarNoobz. You genuinely made me laugh. Excellent tip!

    • CarNoobz profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      Wait. You forgot tip #11...

      "Move to Hawaii so you can skip tips 1-10." =)

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      moonlake - I agree with you completely. I can think of a number of times where I have had 4-wheel drive vehicles tailgating me during snowstorms, I guess in an attempt to make me go faster. No type of car is invincible in poor weather and your story makes that point.

    • moonlake profile image


      8 years ago from America

      We have icy roads often here. What I hate the most is people with 4 wheel drives, they think they can drive fast on icy roads because of their cars. I had to go into town one icy morning when two SUVs went speeding past me, way to fast for conditions. They both ended up in the ditch and I had to call 911 because I was the first car there. The kids here have lost more school days this year because of our bad weather. Thanks for sharing all this good information.

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks poshcoffeeco. We're getting our first measurable snow of the season right now. I''m hoping it's cleared up well before I have to drive to work in the morning.

    • poshcoffeeco profile image

      Steve Mitchell 

      8 years ago from Cambridgeshire

      Hi, I have put your link on my hub as promised.

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks poshcoffeeco. I will have to read you ice/snow driving Hub. You can never be armed with too much information when it comes to driving in wintry weather conditions.

    • poshcoffeeco profile image

      Steve Mitchell 

      8 years ago from Cambridgeshire

      Great tips. I am adding your link to my driving on ice and snow article.

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks Dan. It's frustrating when local governments fail to prepare sufficiently for winter road safety. Luckily, you don't have to deal with snow that often.

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      Kathi - I can certainly see how the blizzard of '78 was memorable for you - a whole gallon??? I thought that video had some good tips. I didn't realize that winter tires were that different from all-season tires. When I was a kid my father sometimes put chains on the tires. You don't see that too much anymore!

    • Dan Barfield profile image

      Dan Barfield 

      8 years ago from Gloucestershire, England, UK

      Useful info! I live in the Cotswolds in England and snow is not often a problem for us... but it is all over the place right now. Our local council's never prepare properly so the roads out in the villages where I am get bugger all salt - which is frustrating. It's good to get some sound advice.

    • Fossillady profile image

      Kathi Mirto 

      8 years ago from Fennville

      Great information here! I worry about my two grown up sons driving in snow and remember a time I was deathly afraid of driving in snow at all. The video had more tips, even better yet. Must get winter tires soon!! I remember the storm of 78 so well. We were snowed in here in Michigan for a week! I remember eating a whole gallon of ice cream in a day, lol, cause I had just moved and didn't know anyone so was stuck inside. Thanks for sharing! Kathi :O)

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      Vespa - What's interesting about the first snowfall too, is that there even seem to be a lot of accidents with minimal amounts of snow. I think drivers forget what slick conditions it creates and don't adjust their driving because the snow appears so harmless. A car hit me once on a first snowfall - slid into me while I was stopped at a four-way stop sign. Immediately after that, another accident happened on the opposite side of the intersection. There probably wasn't even a quarter inch of snow on the ground. Luckily you don't have to deal with this in Peru.

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      Hi Denise. I didn't realize you lived in Alaska. That must have made for some interesting snowy driving experiences. Unfortunately, even the smallest-seeming fender bender can be quite costly. Thanks for your vote and for sharing.

    • vespawoolf profile image

      Vespa Woolf 

      8 years ago from Peru, South America

      Although we haven't driven in winter weather for quite a while (since we live in Peru), these are great reminders and bring back memories of Midwest winters. The statistics are a warning to take precautions and be careful if driving after a first snowfall. Thanks!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Kristin-great tips. Growing up in Michigan, and then living in Alaska, gave me many experiences driving in snow and ice...and a few fender benders. Rated Up/U and sharing.

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks Kim. I stick with number one as much as possible myself!

    • Mama Kim 8 profile image

      Sasha Kim 

      8 years ago

      Thank you for all the fabulous tips... I usually stick with number 1 if it has snowed ^_^

      Voting this up and useful!

    • Howard S. profile image

      Howard S. 

      8 years ago from Dallas, Texas, and Asia

      Wet pavement is also good practice for ice and snow. Suppose you yourself need to learn, and practice snowfalls just don't occur at convenient times. Or maybe you lack the confidence or experience to teach your teen to drive on ice and snow.

      Autocrossing (or Solo) are automotive events held around the country that allow you to learn and practice car control under safe conditions. Do it on a rainy day and you'll learn a lot that is applicable to driving on snow and ice.

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      HoneyBB - I think taking your teenage son to an empty parking lot to practice driving in the snow would be a great idea. Just make sure you're not near any lamp posts, etc. It's a good idea for anyone to do this to try out their anit-lock brakes if their car has them or to steer out of a spin. I have a new car this winter and am anxious to see how it handles in the snow, and will be testing it out myself in an empty parking lot as soon as we get some measurable snow.

    • HoneyBB profile image

      H Lax 

      8 years ago

      This will surely help prepare people to be safer drivers in the winter months. A class for winter driving education is an excellent suggestion. I have a teen age son myself and I think I might take him to an empty parking lot during the next snowfall.

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      Hi Howard - That SuperBowl fiasco was quite an embarrassment, I guess. I lived in Dallas during the winters of 1987 and 88 (boy that makes me feel old). During January of both years there were ice storms. The only "equipment" I saw was a guy standing in the back of a pick up truck shoveling sand onto an intersection. I'm glad to hear that's changed. I hear you got some snow on Christmas, at least my inlaws reported getting 4 inches in McKinney.

    • Howard S. profile image

      Howard S. 

      8 years ago from Dallas, Texas, and Asia

      Dallas now has snow removal equipment and driving simulators for the operators. They acquired it a few years ago when a snow storm and the Super Bowl chose the same weekend to come to Dallas. They were embarrassed to have to borrow snowplows!

      There's not much need to drive on snow or ice in Dallas because it doesn't come often or last long. What catches me by surprise, though, is finding sand on the curves later--yikes, that's dangerous!

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks Bill. The worst and scariest winter driving I've ever experienced was in Dallas where winter driving skills aren't all that necessary. However, not only do they not have equipment to clear the roads, but so many drivers have no idea what they're doing! My father did the same with me as yours, and I have taken each of my kids to practice. It's a bit scary having them speed up on snow and slamming on the brakes, but anti-lock brakes are incredible and they have to know to trust them and hold them down no matter what. Thanks for your comment and have a happy new year also.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      8 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Valuable tips my friend. We have some of the worst snow drivers in the country here in Washington; we just don't see enough of it for people to get comfortable with it. Luckily, my dad insisted that I learn at an early age, and he would take me out in the snow and keep drilling lessons into me until I learned.

      Happy New Year to you!


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