10 Tips To Drive Safely and Keep You Warm This Winter

Driving during the winter can be dangerous because slippery roads and weather conditions that cut visibility increase the likelihood of getting into an accident. Taking active steps to maintain your car, install snow chains and understand how to respond when hydroplaning can help prevent wintertime accidents and higher premiums from filing an insurance claim.

Here are 10 winter driving tips to help you drive with more confidence and vigilance in the colder months.

1. Check the Weather Forecast

Checking the weather forecasts for the upcoming days can help you prepare in advance for unfavorable driving conditions. For example, if you commute to work and you see that there’s heavy rain expected in two days, you may want to see if you can work remotely that day. Alternatively, in the days following a storm, you may want to plan a route that does not use winding roads that are potentially slick with water and ice.

2. Prepare Your Vehicle

Always prepare your car in advance for icy and wet road conditions before you start driving. Don’t forget to clear snow and ice off your car and check your electrical systems and battery. Examine your ignition and check for damaged wires and cracks in the distributor cap, as well.

Make sure your car’s maintenance is up to date — that includes checking your tire tread and pressure, fixing your heater and changing your oil and antifreeze.

You should also consider storing emergency supplies in your car, including:

  • First aid kit
  • Snow shovel
  • Road salt
  • Blankets
  • Flashlights
  • Water and food

3. Test the Road Conditions

If you’re new to driving in cold and wet conditions (or it has been a while), test the road conditions by driving around your neighborhood or an empty parking lot. You should also practice braking to test if your anti-lock brakes work and if you lose road traction. If you experience any issues, consider arranging for a tow to your nearest repair shop to fix your brakes.

4. Drive Cautiously

Maintaining control of the vehicle and staying vigilant of road conditions should be among your top goals while driving. Jerking movements or abrupt speed changes can cause a loss of traction. Steering, accelerating and braking should be slow and smooth.

Drivers should be cautious of oversteering and understeering. Oversteering is a rear-wheel skid, causing your rear to swing out towards the outside of the turn instead of the direction that you’re steering. When you understeer, your front tires lose traction and will continue moving in their current direction. In either scenario, do not slam on your brakes and continue steering in the direction of the skid until you regain control.

5. Avoid Stopping on Hills and Slopes

Avoid hills altogether if you can — you risk losing traction halfway up. If you do drive uphill, keep a steady foot on the gas pedal and avoid stopping unless necessary. Stopping drains your momentum and you may not be able to build up the inertia needed to reach the crest.

If you must park on a hill, turn your front wheels away from the curb when parking uphill or toward the curb if you’re parking downhill. Always remember to engage your parking brakes before leaving your car.

6. Be Extra Vigilant When Driving at Night

In the fall and winter, clocks fall back one hour and days get shorter, which can increase the time you spend driving while it’s dark. Ideally, nighttime driving should be avoided but if it’s necessary, use these winter driving safety tips for safe navigating:

  • Make sure your headlights are cleaned and functioning properly.
  • Drive slowly through neighborhoods.
  • Stay vigilant for pedestrians walking or on bicycles.

7. Keep Calm if You’re Stuck at the Roadside

If your car stalls due to wintry weather, take a deep breath to help you remain calm. Next, call your insurance company to arrange a towing service (if you have roadside assistance) or call a roadside service company directly. Also, follow the tips below to keep yourself, your passengers and the people around you safe:

  • Stay in your car if there’s no immediate emergency.
  • Increase your car’s visibility by placing lights and bright markers on the antenna or windows, and keep the interior lights on.
  • Avoid carbon monoxide poisoning by ensuring that your exhaust pipe isn’t clogged by snow. Run it every 10 minutes each hour — just enough to stay warm.
  • When running the motor, open the window a little for fresh air to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Raise the car hood to indicate you need help.

8. Know What To Do if You Hydroplane

If your car starts to hydroplane and spin, don’t overcorrect by turning your steering wheel in the opposite direction of the slide. Instead, slowly turn into the slide to gain traction.

Do not slam on your brakes if you’re hydroplaning. Instead, ease your foot off the gas pedal and press on your brakes with a light pumping action to bring your car to a gentle stop.

To avoid hydroplaning, make sure your tires have sufficient tread to “grip” the road and are properly inflated. Also, do not use cruise control on wet roads because it can cause hydroplaning when your car approaches standing water at higher speeds.

9. Wait for Conditions To Clear

If fog, snow, or darkness is heavily obstructing visibility, seriously consider waiting for the weather to clear or waiting until the morning before you get back on the road. If you’re visiting family or friends, consider packing a set of clothes in case you need to spend the night.

10. Be on the Lookout for Children

Many young students may be on winter vacation so you may see them playing outside during all hours of the day. Drivers should always slow down in neighborhoods and be extra vigilant, especially when visibility conditions are low. Also, drive carefully around cars with their hazard lights activated — they may be picking up or dropping off children.

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How Common Are Car Accidents During the Winter Season?

Around 24% of weather-related car accidents happen on icy and snowy roads each year. More than 1,300 people die and over 116,800 are injured in car accidents during the winter season. Icy and snowy roads can reduce your car’s traction and maneuverability, which increases the likelihood of accidents.

How Should You Drive on Icy Roads?

Drivers should drive slowly in icy conditions, never slamming on the gas or brake pedal. Otherwise, skidding or hydroplaning can occur.  Anticipate obstacles by keeping an eye on the road. If you’re behind another vehicle, give yourself enough distance to brake so you don’t cause a fender bender.

Do You Need a Specific Type of Insurance To Drive in the Snow?

To drive in the snow, you only need to meet your state’s insurance requirements — there is no special insurance for specifically driving in the snow. We recommend spending extra on full coverage, which combines collision and comprehensive insurance. 

Full coverage protects your car when it strikes another car or object or if it suffers losses from hail, vandalism, theft or some other non-collision-type loss.

Unless you are financing your car, full coverage is not required. However, these coverages will be especially useful for drivers living in areas prone to blizzards and black ice.

FAQs

Is it safe to use cruise control in Wintry conditions?

Avoid using cruise control on icy roads because it can lead to hydroplaning. You should always be in active control of your car when driving in wet or icy conditions.

What headlights should I use when driving in snow?

You should use low beams whenever visibility conditions are poor, such as at night or while it’s raining. If there is heavy snow and fog, avoid using your high beams because they can reflect and blind you.

What is the best thing to put on tires for snow?

Snow tires and snow chains are useful for driving in the snow because they improve traction and can help prevent hydroplaning on slippery roads.

Key Takeaways

  • Driving during the winter can be dangerous due to the increased likelihood of hydroplaning and snow and fog compromising visibility.
  • If you lose control of your vehicle, avoid slamming on your brakes or you risk hydroplaning.
  • Using snow tires or installing snow chains can give your tires enough traction to safely drive on slippery roads.

Sleet, slush, snow and ice as well as winter's dark days all increase the risk of car accidents. There are many ways to prepare for winter driving, but one of the most important factors is your insurance policy. SmartFinancial can help you find the best comprehensive and collision insurance in your area. To receive free quotes, just enter your zip code below or call 855.214.2291.

Sources:

  • U.S. Department of Transportation. “Snow and Ice.” Accessed on Nov. 2, 2022.

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