How to Drive Safely on Snow and Ice
Severe winter weather can make driving a challenge. And, unfortunately, more than 70 percent of the nation's roads are in regions that receive more than five inches of average snowfall annually.
Snow and ice-covered streets create treacherous driving conditions. So treacherous that there are nearly half a million crashes and more than 2,000 road deaths every winter.
To avoid putting yourself at risk, stay off the roads when the weather is bad. And if you must drive in wintry conditions like snow, ice, or freezing rain, follow these tips to get from point A to point B safely.
Prep your vehicle. Get your car or truck ready to hit the road. Start with your tires—make sure they’re properly inflated. (Cold weather can cause tire pressure to drop.) If they’re low, fill them up to the tire pressure that’s specified in your car owner’s manual. Consider installing winter tires, with deeper tread, if you live in an area with heavy snowfall. Keep your gas tank at least half full; this will allow you to keep your car warm if your car breaks down and you’re stranded.
Store a well-stocked winter emergency kit in the trunk so that you have supplies if your car gets stuck. The kit should include warm clothing, blankets, food and water, a flashlight, jumper cables, road flares, basic first aid supplies, and a folding shovel in case you have to dig out your car. (Don’t want to build your own kit? Prepackaged winter roadside emergency kits start at about $60 online.)
Before driving, de-ice your windshield and clear snow from your car’s roof, grill, windows, headlights and taillights. And make sure that your car’s tail pipe is clear of snow, ice, and other debris; if it’s clogged, carbon monoxide could seep into your car within minutes of your engine running.
Plan your route accordingly. Map out your drive strategically. Stay on main roads while avoiding steep hills, congested areas, and bridges whenever possible. (Bridges freeze before other road surfaces.)
Know what you’re going up against. Check the weather forecast. Test the road conditions by driving on a road that’s close to your home before setting off on your trip. (Weather.gov maintains a list of state websites with road condition information.) See if there are any detours or road closures along your drive.
Practice safe driving. When you’re on the road, focus on one thing: maintaining control of your vehicle. You can do this by driving slowly; keeping a safe following distance of three to four car lengths between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you; accelerating and decelerating smoothly; braking gradually; and using headlights at all times (except in fog) to make your car as visible as possible to other drivers. Also, avoid using “cruise control” in snowy or icy conditions—if your car skids, cruise control can cause your wheels to spin faster.
Don’t panic if you lose control of your car. If you drive on a patch of ice and lose control of your vehicle, don’t slam on the brakes, which could cause your car to skid. Instead, take your foot off the gas and steer your car in the direction that you wish to go until you gain traction.
Minimize distractions. Now is not the time to be driving while listening to loud music, engaging in animated conversations with passengers, or eating. It’s never a good idea to talk on the phone or text while driving – both are illegal in most states because they’re major causes of distracted driving accidents. Keep your eyes on the road and stay alert.
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