Winter Driving Tips: Avoid Accidents & Having to File Claims

When the weather outside turns cold, driving can be tricky, road conditions can be treacherous and your vehicle can take a pounding. If you're driving in a cold climate for the first time, you may need to familiarize yourself with how to negotiate a road that's covered in snow, slush, sleet and/or ice. If you've driven in a cold climate for years, you may only need to check that your vehicle is in good working order and fully stocked with emergency supplies. The best course of action is to be prepared and to be aware of the increased risks associated with driving in cold, inclement weather. You should also have adequate car insurance.

Data on Vehicle Accidents in Winter

17% of all vehicle crashes happen during winter conditions.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 17% of all vehicle crashes happen during winter conditions. During the wintertime, all drivers must heighten their awareness of the risks posed by slush, snow, sleet, ice and low visibility. To that end, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) provides the following facts:

  • Over 70% of U.S. roads are located in regions that, on average, get more than five inches of snowfall annually. Snow and ice reduce "pavement friction and vehicle maneuverability," increasing the likelihood of crashes. 

  • Every year, 24% of weather-related vehicle crashes happen on snowy, slushy or icy pavement and 15% occur during sleet events or snowfall.

  • Every year, more than 1,300 people are killed and more than 116,800 people are injured in vehicle crashes on snowy, slushy or icy pavement. Every year, nearly 900 people are killed and nearly 76,000 people are injured in vehicle crashes during sleet events or snowfall.

Winter Driving Tips

No matter the weather, drivers and their passengers should always be properly secured in the vehicle: Adults should wear a seatbelt, and children under the age of 13 should be in a height- and weight-appropriate car seat, whether a booster or a forward-facing or rear-facing car seat.

Of course, no driver should ever be on the road when they are overtired, overly stressed or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Remember, if you can avoid any tickets or accidents for three years, you'll most likely be eligible for a nice discount on your auto insurance.

Driving in Snowstorms

Good drivers avoid driving in snowstorms. If you are already on the road when a snowstorm hits, drive to a safe, out-of-the-way place and wait out the storm. If you're leaving home in a snowstorm, see if you can put off your trip for a day or two or until conditions improve. If you are forced to get behind the wheel, look for the safest, least snowy route you can find and clean off any snow, ice or dirt from your vehicle's windows, headlights and tail lights as well as any sensors or back-up cameras.

Defensive drivers always avoid a snowstorm when they can.

Defensive drivers drive slower in a snowstorm than they usually drive, knowing that wet, icy or snowy roads are a serious hazard. Further, a defensive driver will constantly adapt their braking, acceleration and speed to suit the inclement weather and road conditions, which can change from minute to minute. In other words, don't rely on cruise control in a snowstorm or icy conditions. Finally, always leave a safe distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you on the road.

Driving on Long-Distance Trips

Before driving for a long distance in the winter months, your vehicle should go through a routine maintenance check, if it hasn't recently, and be fully stocked with emergency supplies (see below). When you check the weather report, see what the weather forecast says about not only your departure and destination points but also every mile in between—in the end, you may have to alter your route to err on the side of safety. Finally, make sure your cell phone is fully charged and your charger is packed. If you get stuck and need to make an emergency call, you'll be glad you did.      

What To Keep in Your Car During Winter

If your car breaks down on a cold, cold night, you want to be prepared. First, you should have the following to announce your presence to other drivers if your vehicle breaks down on the road:

  • safety lights

  • flares, flashlights

  • glow sticks 

Second, your vehicle should have a snow brush, an ice scraper, working jumper cables and a spare tire. Finally, AAA recommends keeping the following items in your car during the cold months:

  • Emergency food and water

  • Blankets

  • Additional warm clothing

  • Medicine and medications

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Preparing Your Car for the Winter Months

When the cold weather hits, you can be prepared by checking to make sure your vehicle is in tip-top shape. The Insurance Information Institute (III) offers these recommendations:

  • When it snows, drivers should find a big, empty, snow-filled parking lot to practice braking, accelerating and turning. Every vehicle acts differently in snowy, icy conditions, so you should gauge how well your anti-lock brakes or your tires perform. 

  • Since cold weather can hurt the operational capacity of your vehicle's battery, the  battery should be fully charged and fully functional before the freezing weather arrives.

  • Keep your gas tank as full as possible. For one thing, you may need the fuel because of winter storms, traffic delays or long detours. Further, the more gas you have in your tank, the less likely your vehicle's gas line will freeze.

  • Change your oil. Since cold weather thickens oil, you may want to inject your vehicle with a thinner grade of oil. The oil filter should also be changed.

  • Check your tires. They should have sufficient tread and be properly inflated. To see if your tires are properly inflated, check them when they haven't been used for at least three hours. In some areas, drivers should consider purchasing snow tires.

  • Make sure your exhaust pipe is unobstructed during snow and sleet events. When your vehicle is running, a clogged exhaust pipe can lead to fatal carbon monoxide poisoning.  

  • Prevent windshield visibility issues. For example, winter wiper blades stop ice and snow from clinging to the blades and reducing their effectiveness. Another tip is to put anti-freeze into your windshield-wiper fluid.  

Finally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends using thicker or rubbery floor mats during the winter, noting that "improperly installed floor mats ... could interfere with the operation of the accelerator or brake pedal, increasing the risk of a crash."

8 Steps to Take After an Accident

When you are involved in an accident, it can be a traumatic, disorienting experience. Let's review the steps every driver should take after an accident:

  1. Contact the police and file a police report

  2. Exchange information with the other driver, and get their insurance policy number

  3. Document the damage to your car and the other car with photos or video, making sure to capture the damage and the entire scene from different angles

  4. Get the contact information of any witnesses

  5. Seek medical attention and get an official medical report to document your injuries

  6. Write down as much detailed information as you can remember about the accident

  7. Contact your insurance company, giving them as much information and details as you can

  8. Forward the official accident report and medical report to your insurance company or the other driver's insurance company

Liability auto insurance protects a policyholder against claims when the policyholder has caused others bodily injury and property damage. Only full coverage insurance protects the policyholder's own vehicle.  

Can Your Auto Insurance Stand Up To Winter?

Sleet, slush, snow and ice as well as winter's darker days all increase the risk of accidents. Drivers should make sure their vehicle is in tip-top working order. They should also equip their car with emergency supplies, emergency food and water. Drivers should also practice driving in inclement weather conditions in an empty parking lot to understand how their vehicle responds to snowy, icy conditions. Finally, drivers should avoid traveling in snowstorms and always check out the weather report for the miles ahead.

Even if you take all precautions, accidents can happen. To find you the lowest rates on the best car insurance policies SmartFinancial can sort through hundreds of policies to match you with the right policy from the right carrier.  To receive free, real-time quotes that can save you up to 40% on your auto insurance, just enter your zip code below or call 855-214-2291.

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