5 Tips for Safe Driving in the Winter

safe driving in the winter

Inclement weather can have a direct impact on roadway safety conditions. This is especially true during the winter months when snow, sleet, and ice create unique hazards. Not surprisingly, 21 percent of vehicle crashes can be traced back to adverse weather or slick pavement conditions, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Winter is in full swing, which means you might want to take extra precautions when hitting the road. We’ve rounded up five simple tips for safe driving in the winter months.

1. Keep up with routine vehicle maintenance.

Car trouble can arise for all kinds of reasons but staying up to date on routine maintenance can go an extra long way in the winter. The National Safety Council recommends taking the following measures to keep your car running in tip-top shape this time of year:

  • Replace low-tread tires or opt for winter tires
  • Check your tire pressure regularly
  • Test your battery power, which can be affected by cold weather
  • Make sure your car’s cooling system is working properly
  • Don’t let your gas tank dip below half-full as this could contribute to a gas line freeze
  • Replace your windshield wiper blades if necessary, and go with wiper fluid that’s designed for freezing temperatures

You might also want to keep some handy winter driving gear in your car, like an ice scraper and snow shovel.

2. Prepare for snowy roads.

Snow can create dangerous driving conditions. Every year, almost a quarter of all weather-related car crashes happen on snowy, icy, or slushy pavement, according to the Federal Highway Administration. What’s more, over 70 percent of U.S. roads are located in snowy regions. This is all to say that it’s best to be prepared. You might consider investing in special windshield wiper blades that are specifically designed for clearing snow. Driving slower than normal is also wise. (More on this shortly.)

You can also look into snow chains, which are usually more cost effective than snow tires. They’re ideal for creating much-needed traction when driving through snow and ice. You can take these on and off yourself as needed, though bear in mind that they aren’t designed for dry pavement. Snow tires, which should be professionally installed and removed, are another option.

3. Know how to respond to skidding.

If you’ve ever been in a skidding car, you already know that it can be a scary experience. Let’s start by explaining that there are actually two different types of skids. Front-wheel skids typically happen if you’re in a front-wheel drive vehicle and brake or accelerate too hard. This leads to a loss of traction and the inability to steer. Your best bet is to avoid braking while guiding the wheel in the direction you want the front of the car to go.

A rear-wheel skid is often referred to as an oversteer that causes the car to spin. When this happens, you want to focus on your current path of travel while turning the steering wheel toward the direction you want the front of the vehicle to go. 

4. Look out for patches of black ice.

Black ice refers to the coating of slick, near-invisible ice that can form on roadways in the wintertime. It can accumulate from any precipitation that causes a blanket of ice that’s difficult to detect. Black ice tends to build up at night when streets and highways are out of the sunshine. Bridges, overpasses and underpasses are especially vulnerable. It poses a real danger as icy pavement contributes to more than 156,000 auto crashes every year, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

If you find yourself unexpectedly driving on black ice, the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests doing as little as possible. The goal is to let the vehicle pass over the ice while keeping the steering wheel straight and resisting the urge to hit the brakes. Drivers who notice their back wheels drifting one way or another can gently guide the wheel in the same direction to prevent skidding.

5. Take it slow.

Speeding is never safe but it can be especially dangerous when driving in the winter. According to the Insurance Information Institute, stopping, accelerating, and turning all take longer when driving on icy or snowy roads. Plan ahead and leave room in your commute for extra driving time. You can also consider maintaining a wider following distance from the car in front of you. This way you’ll have more time to react if they lose control of their vehicle. Animals can also pose a threat to winter drivers. Take it slow to avoid unexpected run-ins.

Winter weather brings all kinds of roadway hazards. It’s always smart to check your local forecast before heading out so you know what to expect. Having the right auto insurance policy for your needs can also give you peace of mind. Matic understands just how important that is, which is why we make it easy to compare insurers and find the best policy with just a few clicks.

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