Winter driving safety guide and tips

Guide to Safe Winter Driving

Winter months present unique hazards on roads. Some areas are continually pummeled with snow throughout the season, and others receive only a sporadic dusting—or none at all. It's important to be prepared for the worst, and to know how to mitigate the dangers of snowy and icy roads.

Winter Driving Preparedness

The most important thing you can do is prepare your car for winter by stocking it with necessary supplies and performing routine maintenance.

Things Every Car Needs in the Winter

Chains, or winter-specific tires (studded or siped). There are several options out there for drivers faced with icy conditions. Winter-specific tires are the best for drivers that will have to face snowy roads for several months. Drivers that won't see a lot of snow may opt to carry chains that can be applied to their all-season tires.

Good wiper blades. This is a quick and easy fix that can make a huge difference in the safety of your vehicle. There's nothing worse than flipping on your wipers only to find that six months of sun and infrequent use have rendered them virtually worthless against precipitation.

Flashlight. With the days darker and shorter, make sure that the flashlight that you should already have in your car is stocked with batteries and in full working order.

Blankets or warm clothing. This is another item that should always be in your car that is doubly important to have in the winter.

Ice scraper. A $1.50 investment in a good ice scraper will save you a lot of time and trouble.

Fresh antifreeze. Make sure that your coolant levels are correct and that your fluid isn't due to be replaced. If it is, be sure you have it flushed.

Winter Driving Safety

With your car properly prepared, it's still important to adjust your driving habits to remain safe in the winter months. Slowing down is key, but there's more to it than that. Cars handle strikingly different on snowy roads, and it's important to know how to adjust.

How to Drive in the Snow

Following Distance. The golden rule of two seconds of following distance is not enough on icy roads. The larger the gap between you and the car in front of you, the more time you'll have to react to any sudden movements.

Braking. Your brakes will not work the same on snowy or icy roads. When brakes are forcefully applied, tires tend to lock up and vehicle control is lost. If your tires aren't spinning, it's impossible to control the direction of your vehicle. The solution is to pump your brakes softly—and to expect it to take much longer that usual to bring your car to a stop.

4WD and AWD. Four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive systems are a huge help in the snow, but they won't help you stop any faster. You are certainly better off if your car has one of them, but it's important not to get overconfident.

Black Ice. Bridges, areas in the shade, off-ramps, and intersections are all likely areas for black ice. Take special precautions when approaching these areas, and be alert for any loss of traction that may occur. Black Ice is particularly prevalent in the morning commute hours.

Snow. Not all snow is created equal, and your car will behave differently depending on the type and amount of snow on the road. Slush is extremely dangerous—cars hydroplane easily and the slush is often mistaken for mere rain. If you see unusually large drops of rain, be careful. Compact snow, depending on the salting and sanding work done by your local department of transportation, is slightly better. All snow, however, demands great caution and preparation.

Freezing Rain. There is absolutely nothing more dangerous than freezing rain on a roadway. While uncommon in most areas, when freezing rain occurs, roads are turned into virtual skating rinks. If at all possible, avoid all driving in freezing rain.