12 Tips To Drive Safely in Snowy, Foggy and Icy Weather

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Over 70% of U.S. roads receive more than an average of five inches of snowfall annually, marking the importance of winter driving safety.[1] Driving becomes more dangerous, as drivers need to deal with weather obstructing vision, roads becoming icy and additional car maintenance. This guide provides essential driving safety tips for winter and advice on navigating icy roads safely, from vehicle preparation to understanding insurance coverage.

Key Takeaways

  • When driving in winter, you should be extra watchful for pedestrians, increase your car following distance, accelerate and decelerate slowly and avoid driving at night.
  • Staying informed about weather conditions can prevent unnecessary risks on the road.
  • Before hitting the road in the winter, you should make sure your car's battery, tire pressure and treads and heating system are all well-maintained.
  • Driving safely can help you avoid filing accident-related insurance claims, which can subsequently increase your insurance premium.
  • Collision insurance will cover damages to your car, while comprehensive insurance will insure your car for damages caused by hail or fallen tree branches.

winter driving tips in snowy, foggy, and icy weather

How To Drive Safely This Winter

Navigating winter roads requires a blend of vehicle preparedness and adaptive driving techniques. Dive into the following sections for essential winter driving safety tips to ensure safety and confidence while driving in cold, challenging conditions.

1. Stay Home if Possible

For those residing in regions frequently battered by intense snowstorms, staying alert for treacherous roads, hidden ice patches, and unpredictable conditions is critical. In such scenarios, the safest decision is often to remain indoors. Venturing out not only puts you at risk but also adds to the challenges faced by emergency and road-clearing services.

2. Check the Weather Forecast Before Going Out

A quick glance at the forecast can provide insights into potential road hazards like snowfall, freezing rain, or fog. Being aware of these conditions allows you to adjust your travel plans, take alternative routes or even postpone your journey if necessary. 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.

3. Pack a Winter Emergency Kit

As the temperature drops and roads become treacherous, your car needs to be equipped to handle these changes. However, breakdowns can happen even with proper maintenance so it's wise to have an emergency kit in your car. Essential supplies you’ll want to add to your kit include:[2]

  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Snow shovel
  • Ice scraper
  • Blankets and sleeping bags
  • Non-perishable food
  • Bottled water
  • Booster cables
  • Extra clothing
  • Sand or kitty litter to help your car gain traction if stuck
  • Charged portable battery for your phone
  • Flares
  • Traffic cones
  • Spare tire

4. Ensure Your Car Is Good To Go

Cold temperatures can be taxing on your car, affecting everything from the battery's performance to the tire pressure. Start by checking your battery, as the cold can sap up to 60% of its power when the outside temperature is zero to 32 degrees Fahrenheit.[3] Among the snow driving tips you should follow, you should ensure your tires are properly inflated and consider using tire chains or switching to winter tires for better traction.

In addition, your brakes should be responsive and your brake fluid should be at the recommended level. Don't forget the windshield wipers, which should be free from damage and ready to clear away any snow or sleet. Lastly, ensure your car's heating system is functioning efficiently, not just for comfort, but to defrost and increase visibility.

You should also familiarize yourself with your vehicle’s safety features. Know how to use features like anti-lock brakes, traction control and four-wheel drive. Each can be beneficial in different winter conditions.

5. Wait for Weather Conditions To Clear

If you find yourself caught in the middle of a snowstorm, heavy fog, or freezing rain, it might be best to delay your journey. These conditions can drastically reduce visibility, make roads slippery, and increase the chances of accidents. Instead of risking it, consider waiting a few hours or even until the next day for conditions to improve. Use this time to monitor local news or weather apps for updates.

If you're already on the road when bad weather hits, consider pulling over safely and waiting it out or seeking shelter in a nearby establishment.

In some states, there are designated rest stops where you’re allowed to sleep in your car. No appointment or destination is worth compromising your safety or the safety of others on the road.

6. Be Extra Watchful for Pedestrians

During winter, the combination of snowfall and icy conditions can diminish visibility on the roads and make it hard to see pedestrians. Snowbanks can physically obstruct pedestrians, and the glare from ice can blind drivers. Slippery sidewalks might force pedestrians on roads, and shorter daylight hours mean more people are out during dusk or dawn when visibility is already compromised. Be especially vigilant from 6:00 pm to 8:59 pm, which is when more than one-third of pedestrian fatalities occurred during the winter of 2021.[4]

7. Drive Cautiously

Nearly one quarter of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on pavement slick from snow, slush or ice.[1] As a result, winter roads demand a heightened sense of awareness and a more deliberate approach to driving. Here are additional tips you can follow for a safe winter driving experience:

  • Slow down: Even if you're driving on a road that seems clear, black ice can be lurking invisibly, waiting to catch you off guard. By reducing your speed, you give yourself more time to react to unexpected hazards.
  • Increase your following distance: In icy or snowy conditions, stopping distances can be significantly longer. Instead of the usual three to four second rule, aim for an eight to 10 second gap between you and the vehicle in front to give you ample time to stop safely if needed.[5]
  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly: Rapid changes in speed can cause your vehicle to skid. When starting from a stop, apply the gas slowly to gain traction and to decelerate, take your foot off the accelerator gradually.
  • Don’t use cruise control: While cruise control is a great feature for long drives on clear roads, it's not suitable for slippery conditions. It can make it harder for you to adjust your speed quickly in response to changing road conditions.
  • Watch for kids: Children playing near roads, building snowmen or sledding may be inattentive to oncoming vehicles. Be especially vigilant in residential areas, near schools and parks.

8. Minimize Distractions

Distracted driving is perilous in any season but especially so in winter. Whether it's a buzzing phone, texting, an intricate in-car entertainment system, lively passengers or eating, it's essential to minimize these distractions. By ensuring your focus remains solely on the road, you can enhance your reaction time, making split-second decisions more accurate and reducing the risk of accidents.

9. Update Your Insurance Coverage

Winter brings with it a host of potential hazards, from hailstorms to slippery road collisions. If you currently have only liability insurance, it's essential to note that this will not cover physical damages to your vehicle from events like hail or if you're at fault in a collision.

To ensure you're protected against winter accidents, consider adding comprehensive and collision coverages to your policy.

Comprehensive coverage will protect against damages from natural events like hail, while collision coverage will cover repairs or replacement costs if your vehicle is damaged in an accident. Fortunately, if you’re still paying off your car or leasing it, you will likely already have these coverages in your policy.

10. Ensure You Have the Right Identification and Documents

Venturing out on winter roads requires more than just vehicular preparedness; it's equally crucial to be equipped with the right documentation. Whether it's a routine traffic stop or an unforeseen incident, having immediate access to your driver's license, vehicle registration and proof of car insurance can make interactions smoother and more efficient. These documents not only validate your driving credentials but also provide essential information in case of emergencies or accidents.

11. Avoid Driving at Night

Nighttime brings reduced visibility, making it harder to spot ice patches, snowbanks or other potential hazards on the road. The glare from oncoming headlights can also be intensified on wet or icy surfaces, momentarily blinding drivers. Additionally, fatigue often sets in during the late hours, slowing reaction times and impairing judgment.

By choosing to travel during daylight hours, you benefit from better visibility, increased alertness and the added advantage of being able to spot potential issues with your vehicle or the road ahead.

12. Consider Signing Up for Roadside Assistance

Whether it's a sudden breakdown, a flat tire, or getting stuck in a snowdrift, these situations can be daunting, especially in cold and isolated conditions. By signing up for a reputable roadside assistance program, you equip yourself with a safety net. These services offer prompt help, be it towing, jump-starting a battery, or even delivering emergency fuel.

What Types of Car Accidents Are Most Common During the Winter?

Winter's icy grip brings with it a unique set of challenges for drivers, leading to specific types of accidents that are more prevalent during these colder months. Recognizing these common mishaps can help drivers be more vigilant and prepared:

  • Rear-end collisions: Slippery roads increase stopping distances. Drivers who don't account for this often find themselves unable to stop in time, leading to rear-end collisions.
  • Slide-into accidents: Icy conditions, especially on intersections or turns, can cause vehicles to slide into traffic poles, guardrails, or other stationary objects.
  • Multi-vehicle pile-ups: Reduced visibility due to snow or fog, combined with slippery roads, can lead to chain-reaction crashes involving multiple vehicles.
  • Single car spin-outs: Black ice, often invisible to drivers, can cause vehicles to lose control and spin out, especially on highways or at higher speeds.
  • Side-impact collisions: Intersections become particularly hazardous in winter. Drivers sliding through stop signs or red lights can lead to T-bone or side-impact crashes.
  • Vehicle rollovers: Slippery conditions and sudden maneuvers can cause vehicles, especially taller ones like SUVs, to become unstable and roll over.
  • Pedestrian accidents: Snowbanks and reduced daylight hours can decrease visibility, increasing the risk of drivers not seeing pedestrians. Additionally, slippery sidewalks might force pedestrians on roads.

Why Is It Important To Drive Cautiously in Winter Weather?

The combination of snow, ice, sleet, and reduced visibility during winter transforms even familiar roads into unpredictable terrains. Driving cautiously becomes paramount, not just for the safety of the driver, but for everyone on the road.

Icy conditions can significantly extend stopping distances, making sudden brakes or sharp turns risky. Reduced visibility means hazards can appear with little warning. Furthermore, winter conditions can be deceiving; what appears to be a wet road might actually be a sheet of black ice.

By driving cautiously, motorists can better react to unforeseen obstacles, reduce the risk of accidents, and ensure a safer environment for all road users.

How To Get Car Insurance Coverage for a Winter Road Trip

Embarking on a winter road trip can be an exhilarating adventure, but it's essential to ensure your vehicle is adequately insured before hitting the snow-covered roads. Here's a step-by-step guide to securing the right coverage:

  • Consider additional coverage: If you just recently purchased your car, you will likely already have comprehensive and collision coverage, which will insure your car against several types of physical damages. However, if you have a liability-only policy, know that your car’s damages may not be covered in a collision or if it was caused by hail.
  • Check for roadside assistance: Many insurance providers offer roadside assistance as an add-on to cover you in the event of a breakdown. This service can be invaluable, providing towing, jump-starts, or even emergency fuel delivery.
  • Inquire about rental reimbursement: If your car is in the shop following a winter-related mishap, rental car reimbursement can cover the cost of a temporary replacement vehicle.
  • Update your policy for traveling internationally: If you’re driving outside of the country, your auto policy may cover you in Canada but not in Mexico, although your carrier may offer Mexico tourist auto insurance.[6][7]
  • Shop around: Rates and coverages can vary widely between providers. It's worth getting a few car insurance quotes to ensure you're getting the best deal for the coverage you need.
  • Inform your provider: Before embarking on your trip, inform your insurance provider about your travel plans. They might offer specific recommendations or even temporary coverage enhancements.

Remember, while insurance is a safeguard against unforeseen incidents, always prioritize safe driving practices. With the right coverage in place, you can enjoy your winter road trip with the peace of mind that you're protected against the unexpected.

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Will car insurance cover me if I’m in a snow-related accident?

Collision coverage will cover damages to your vehicle from snow-related accidents with another car or object, while comprehensive coverage protects against damages from other winter incidents, like hail or fallen tree limbs.

When should I use snow tires or chains?

You should use snow tires in regions with prolonged cold temperatures and frequent snowfall, as they provide better traction on icy and snowy roads. Chains are recommended for more extreme winter driving conditions, especially on snow-covered or icy roads where added grip is essential.

What headlights should I use when driving in snow?

When driving in snow, use your vehicle's low beam headlights, as they provide better visibility by reducing glare and reflection off the snow. If visibility is severely reduced, consider using fog lights in conjunction with low beams if your vehicle is equipped with them.

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

The best thing to put on tires for snow is snow tires, which are specifically designed with deeper treads and softer rubber compounds to provide better traction in snowy conditions. For extreme conditions or as mandated by local regulations, tire chains can be added for additional grip on icy or snow-packed roads.

What should I do if my car slides on ice?

If your car hydroplanes, remain calm, take your foot off the accelerator, and steer in the direction you want the front of the car to go; avoid sudden braking, as it can exacerbate the slide. If you have anti-lock brakes, apply steady pressure; if not, gently pump the brakes.


  1. Federal Highway Administration. "Snow and Ice." Accessed Oct. 24, 2023.
  2. National Weather Service. “Car Winter Survival Kit Checklist,” Page 1. Accessed Oct. 24, 2023.
  3. United Tire Service. "Cold Weather Weakens Your Battery." Accessed Oct. 24, 2023.
  4. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "Traffic Safety Facts 2021 Data," Page 6. Accessed Oct. 24, 2023.
  5. Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services. "Winter Weather Safety." Accessed Oct. 24, 2023.
  6. Allstate. “Insurance for Driving Outside the U.S.” Accessed Oct. 24, 2023.
  7. Allstate. “7 Things To Know Before Driving in Mexico.” Accessed Oct. 24, 2023.

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