How to Avoid the Dangers of Driving in the Winter
You may be surprised to learn that winter is the season with the fewest fatal car accidents, with 7,111 fatal accidents recorded in the United States during the winter months. Using a detailed report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of every fatal road accident that occurred across the United States in 2019, we have discovered the most dangerous time to be on the road, the states with the highest and lowest fatal accident rates, and the cities that topped the list as the most dangerous to drive in during the winter. We’ve also included our top tips on the dangers to watch out for and driving tips to help you stay safe on the road this winter.
Winter may be tougher on the northern parts of the U.S., where snow and ice are far more common, but through our research we actually found that fatal car accidents were more likely to occur in southern states and cities during the winter months. Below, we’ve shared the winter driving dangers and winter safety tips that all drivers should be aware of as well as some dangers and safety tips geared toward the areas of the country that don’t commonly get snow and ice in the winter.
Winter Driving Dangers
- Ice and snow on the road are among the biggest dangers of winter driving. They can prevent tires from getting good traction on the road, causing them to slide. Black ice is more dangerous than thicker surface ice because it’s easy to mistake for wet pavement, increasing the likelihood of a driver losing control of their car.
- It takes longer to stop a car in the winter. The snow and ice on the road lessen the traction of the tires, which means they will require a longer distance to come to a complete stop. Many winter car accidents are caused by not leaving enough stopping distance between two cars.
- Low tire pressure and tread can spell disaster in the winter. Tires lose air pressure faster as the temperatures get colder, and worn tire treads have less traction, making them dangerous on a road that is covered in snow or ice.
- Reduced visibility is a common danger of winter driving. Snow and ice can build up on windshields, wipers, and the hood of the car, interfering with visibility while driving.
- Reduced ability to see during a snowstorm is an even bigger danger. It can be difficult to see in heavy snow, especially at night when the light from your headlights reflects off of the white snow. These conditions also make it difficult for other drivers on the road to see your car.
- Cold weather can be dangerous for both you and your car. The cold makes it harder for a car’s battery to start, which could leave you stranded in the cold.
- Rain and clouds caused by heavy winter storms moving inland can lead to dangerous driving conditions for coastal states.
- Winter is the darkest time of the year, and as days get darker earlier, roadways become less visible in the evenings, which can increase the likelihood of an accident occurring.
- Warmer temperatures can cause any snow or ice to melt quickly and could lead to flooding conditions on the road.
- Lack of experience driving in winter conditions puts many southern drivers in danger. Drivers in southern states are often inexperienced at driving in snow or ice, so on the rare occasion that these conditions do occur, drivers in these areas are more likely to get into an accident.
Winter Safe Driving Tips
- Drive slowly and increase distance between your car and the one in front of you. Approach all intersections, curves, and hills slowly, and adjust your speed for the road conditions. It can be harder to stop on snowy or icy roads, so allow twice as much stopping distance between your car and the car in front of you.
- Check on your tires routinely throughout the winter to make sure that they all have the necessary amount of air pressure and that the tread hasn’t gotten too low from wear and tear. This will ensure that your tires have enough traction while driving on snow and ice.
- Clean snow and ice off of your car before driving in the winter. Leaving it on the hood can cause it to blow up onto the windshield and reduce your visibility, while leaving it on the roof of the car can end up reducing visibility for the driver behind you.
- Keep your windows clean and wiper fluid filled during the winter. Always clean ice and snow from all of the windows and mirrors to help with visibility while driving. Maintain the wiper fluid level, as the wipers are often used throughout the winter to clean snow and debris from the windshield.
- Clear snow from the headlights and taillights to improve your ability to see and so that other drivers are able to see you better. Stop to clean them off if necessary while driving during a snowstorm.
- Avoid letting your gas tank reach empty before filling it in the winter. The U.S. Department of Energy found that a car’s gas mileage is about 12% lower when the temperature is 20ºF compared to when it’s 77ºF, meaning that your car won’t get as far on that last gallon of gas.
- Be prepared for any situation, especially one that may leave you stranded in winter. Keep emergency supplies in your car, including jumper cables, a spare tire, a shovel, an ice scraper, a flashlight, a phone charger, a blanket, food and water, and sand or kitty litter to help give your tires traction if they get stuck in the snow.
- Check the weather forecast before you drive and give yourself extra time if rain or snow could be a hazard.
- Turn the car’s headlights on before it begins to get dark so that other drivers can still see your oncoming car at dusk, and keep an eye out for other drivers who may not have turned their headlights on yet.
- Avoid roads that are known to flood, especially if warmer temperatures may begin to cause snow and ice to melt.
- Be aware of other drivers on the road during wintry conditions, especially in areas that aren’t used to that type of weather.