By now, most snow-vulnerable states have experienced their first snowfall, setting the tone for another winter—and with it, a heightened risk of vehicular collisions. Icy roads, snowy windshields, and blizzard-like conditions can interfere with your visibility and control on the road, resulting in over 1,300 traffic-related deaths annually.
Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a ton of money on a brand-new vehicle or completely change your lifestyle to avoid this risk. With a handful of basic strategies, you can become a safer winter driver.
Key Strategies for Safer Winter Driving
Make sure to follow these simple steps to reduce your risk while driving in winter:
- Always follow basic safety precautions. In winter, you should follow all basic safety precautions even more consistently and seriously. For example, you should wear your seatbelt every time you enter your vehicle. You should adjust your seat and mirrors to remain alert and aware of your surroundings. You should obey all motor vehicle laws, such as using turn signals and following traffic signs. These are even more important during hazardous conditions.
- Get snow tires (or new tires). If you live in an area with heavy snowfall, you should consider getting snow tires for your vehicle; they’re a reasonably low expense that could help you prevent an accident. If you decide against it, check your current tires’ tread depths and air pressure to ensure they’re ready for winter.
- Know the weather conditions. Pay close attention to the weather forecasts at all times. Knowing when a blizzard is expected to roll in could help you leave a party in enough time to avoid it, or stay overnight somewhere to reduce your risk of an accident.
- Know what to do in a crash. No matter how well you prepare, an accident is still more likely in winter than in any other month. To stay safe, you should know what to do in a crash; pull over to the side of the road, use your vehicle as a makeshift shelter, and call for help immediately. You can worry about the insurance, and any cases you might need to file after your safety is ensured.
- Maximize your visibility. Visibility is a key problem in the winter, so take precautions to maximize that visibility. You can do this by making sure your windshield and windows are clear of any snow and ice, and by turning your headlights on their standard setting during low-visibility conditions.
- Slow down and increase following distance. One of the best ways to reduce your risk of an accident, in any weather, is to drive a little slower and increase your following distance. The increased following distance gives you more time to react to another vehicle’s slowdown or stoppage, which is especially important on icy roads. The slower speeds will also give you more time to react, and will lessen any impact you eventually face.
- Accelerate and decelerate slowly. If you accelerate too fast, you’ll end up spinning your tires in the snow. If you brake too hard, you could skid and lose control of the vehicle. Instead, take care to accelerate and decelerate slowly.
- Keep an emergency kit handy. It’s a good idea to keep an emergency kit in your car, just in case you become stranded. Your kit should include a small shovel, kitty litter (or some other means of generating traction), a scraper and brush, a flashlight, water, snacks, matches, a first aid kit, a tow chain, jumper cables, emergency flares, and a means of recharging your phone.
- Stay home when you can. Last but not least, try not to drive in hazardous conditions unless you absolutely have to. If you have to work, call in to see if you can wait an extra hour for the roads to clear. If you can work from home, do it. Stock up on groceries before a storm rolls in, and minimize your travel time as much as possible.
The key to maximizing the benefits of these strategies is to use them consistently. Many drivers are extra cautious during the first few snowfalls of the year, but as they become more comfortable with the landscape, revert to their ordinary driving patterns. A false sense of security or confidence can lull you into making a mistake, so remain cautious at all times, and practice good habits to retain as much control over the situation as possible.