How to Drive Safely in Winter


Welcome to the winter season, which officially began on December 22, 2011. Some of the year’s most classic and essential holidays will unite families, friends, and loved ones throughout the next few months, and such reunions can often require serious transportation — frequently in the form of a drive along the open road.

But as tempting as it can be to carol one’s way through a lengthy automobile trip, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and other holiday chestnuts should not take priority over essential automobile precautions. This is because the winter driving season is widely regarded as the one most at risk for injury and peril. Such a warning holds particularly true in regions such as the Northeast, known for especially difficult seasons of snow.

Two devastating statistics should reinforce the importance of treating the winter months with respect as motorists travel. Firstly, inclement weather is responsible for around one-quarter of all accidents throughout the year. Inclement weather is, without a doubt, the distinguishing detail about winter — blizzards, windstorms, sleet and hail are just a few potentially risky ways that Nature operates this time of year.

What can happen when poor driving meets black ice

What can happen when poor driving meets black ice. Photo courtesy of

Another tough number to hear: 70% of fatalities that occur in winter that involve snow or ice also featured an automobile. Drivers who want to reach their destinations safely should arm themselves with the specific knowledge needed to dodge these threats.

Several hazards help winter to stand out as the year’s most challenging season for a drive. “Black ice” definitely ranks as the grimmest of these threats. This deathly type of ice forms when water freezes on black or darkly colored roads and surfaces. Drivers, unable to easily see black ice, can unfortunately succumb to it when their cars spin out uncontrollably. Pavement near trees, the surfaces of bridges, and the pavement beneath overpasses are all prime locations for black ice.

Other winter-season driving problems can include reduced visibility, an aging car battery impaired by the weather, lack of preparedness during an automobile emergency, and lack of knowledge on how to rescue a car from a rut of snow or mud. The best remedy for all of these hazards, including black ice, involves an approach that protects drivers, their passengers, and their cars: winter-ready driving technique, a winter-ready car, and a winter-ready preparation for whatever the weather might do between December and March.

No car is exactly the same as another, and no driver handles her vehicle in an identical way to another motorist. Successful winter driving, however, demands that drivers give up their aim to be distinctive, instead adopting several techniques that help preserve the safety of everyone on the road. Firstly, driving speed must slow down significantly in winter, especially over snow and ice. Skids can be prevented by accelerating, braking, and turning at a reduced pace.

Tailgating is always taboo, but never more so than in the winter, when the lack of space between cars could result in a serious accident. Stopping is also not advised during a winter drive, if possible; drivers should instead try to decelerate enough to roll to their light change, not brake abruptly.

Hills can provoke winter driving dilemmas as well. The best advice is to not stampede over them, but rather to methodically maneuver up the slope, putting on a bit of extra gas to scale the hill, then slowing down and letting gravity pull the car down the hill’s other side.
Drivers should complement their slower speed by employing four-wheel drive, especially over black ice. Driving around a patch of this danger — not over it — is highly advised. In cases where this is impossible, a driver must smoothly and confidently spin and steer their wheel in the desired direction; slowing down without braking too fast can also help avoid a spin-out on top of the ice.

Black ice can also be beaten with another tool in the successful winter driver’s store of tips: preparation in advance for what lurks along the road. Smart motorists never fail to check weather advisory reports before they set out on the road. Visibility is the watchword here, and drivers must ensure that their sight is clear at all times. Any snow or ice on the windshield must be removed before the key enters the ignition. The windshield’s wipers and fluid should also be in top-notch condition.

Make sure your car’s tires are winter-ready.

Make sure your car’s tires are winter-ready. Photo courtesy of

Speaking of the windshield, there are several components of a car that should be inspected for safety before a drive begins, in a process experts call “winterization” for automobiles. Tires and batteries are at the heart of excellent winterizing; an expert mechanic should verify them both for effectiveness at the start of winter. Cars that frequently drive in winter should be fitted with tip-top winter tires, featuring quality treading that won’t wear easily.

The battery’s lead connection should be tightened and cleaned as well. Old batteries should be promptly replaced with new models before the first winter drive. Intelligent winter drivers also ensure that they carry along an additional power source if the battery should fail them; jumper cables or a 12-volt power source are the most recommended.

The National Safety Council provides an outstanding resource on Winter Safety and provides another one on how to winterize your car these resources help to flesh out drivers’ knowledge on safe winter driving. But even these respected organizations acknowledge one common-sense truth: if the weather is too brutal, no driving should take place. Even Mario Andretti can’t sidestep a deadly winter snowstorm.

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