Summer is over, the days are getting colder, and the nights are getting longer. That’s right – it’s time to get ready for winter driving. This winter, your daily commutes, weekend getaways, and holiday travel plans will be made more treacherous by the snow, ice, and lack of daylight. Winter can be a dangerous time for drivers, but a little caution can help your trips go safely.
Driving When It’s Dark
The Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year. Because the sun rises later and sets earlier, your daily commute might take place when it’s dark outside. This can create additional hazards.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, only about 25% of travel occurs when its dark out, but 49% of passenger vehicle occupant fatalities happen at night. This means that the fatality rate per vehicle mile driven is about three times higher at night than during the day. Remember to:
- Optimize your view. The glare from city lights can make it especially hard to see at night. Your headlights should be working properly, and your windshield should be clean.
- Watch out for pedestrians and bicyclists. In the evening, students might be heading home from afterschool activities. Make sure you’re looking for people as well as other vehicles.
- Slow down. Low-beam headlights can help you see the road when it’s dark, but only about 200 feet ahead or possibly even less. This means that your visibility is significantly reduced. You need time to react to hazards on the road, so make sure you’re driving at a safe speed.
Ice on the Road
Ice can make roads treacherous, and even areas that don’t usually see snow can be vulnerable. In February 2021, icy road conditions on a Texas interstate contributed to a massive pileup. According to NBC, more than 130 vehicles were involved. Dozens of people were injured, and at least six people died.
Any ice on the road can be dangerous, but black ice is especially hazardous because it’s so difficult to see. Black ice is actually transparent, not black. It often forms when snow and ice melt and then refreeze to form a thin, smooth layer. If the road looks unusually shiny, there may be black ice. It’s especially common in the morning and evening.
When ice is possible, use caution and leave plenty of space between you and other vehicles. Be extra careful on bridges. Bridges are exposed to cold air on all sides, so they lose heat quickly and can freeze even when other roadways are free of ice.
See The Weather Channel’s guide on how to handle driving on black ice for more tips.
Driving in Snow
Like ice, snow can make roads treacherous. Snow-covered roads can be slippery, and it’s also possible to get stuck. If snow is falling, visibility may be very poor.
When driving in the snow, drive at a speed that’s safe for the conditions, and avoid slamming on your breaks. Use your headlights to increase visibility. Be sure you can see the road. You also want to make sure other cars can see you.
Also, watch out for carbon monoxide poisoning, which can occur when snow clogs a car’s tailpipes. According to ABC Eyewitness News, carbon monoxide can reach dangerous levels after only one minute and 24 seconds. In just 15 to 20 minutes, a carbon monoxide-filled vehicle could easily prove fatal.
Winter Driving Etiquette
Rude and reckless drivers can make winter driving even more stressful. Here are a few tips to reduce driving frustration:
- Give yourself plenty of room. Tailgating is always dangerous, but it’s even worse in winter weather. Leave extra space between your car and the car in front of you.
- Give snowplows room, too. Getting stuck behind a slow snowplow can be annoying, but at least you’re benefiting from a freshly plowed road. Don’t pass a snowplow unless you have enough room to do so safely.
- Turn your headlights on when visibility is poor. This can help other drivers see you.
- Leave early and allow yourself extra time. Everything seems worse when you’re rushing, and you’re also much more likely to make mistakes.
- Stay home if you can. Hospital staff and other emergency workers don’t have the luxury of staying home when the weather is bad. Don’t add to the traffic if your trip is not essential.
Getting Your Car Ready
Is your car in good enough shape to handle winter weather? Before you head out to the mountains or get hit with the first snowstorm, get your car ready.
- Make sure your tires are in good shape. If you are spending a lot of time in winter weather conditions, consider investing in snow tires or winter tires.
- Get chains if needed. If you’re heading to the mountains, you may need chains for your tires.
- Take your car in for a tune-up. This is a good time to get an oil change and to have your car inspected for any issues. Be sure to check the brakes, heater and defroster, battery, and antifreeze level.
- Check for recalls. You can enter your VIN at the NHTSA website to see if there are any recalls for your vehicle.
Stocking Your Car
In a worst-case scenario, an emergency car kit can be a lifesaver.
When stocking your car with emergency supplies, think about what you’ll need if you get stranded on the roadside during winter weather. You’ll need to stay warm. You should have some food and water available. And you’ll also need items that can help you get back on the road as fast as possible.
According to Ready.gov, your emergency car kit should include the following:
- Jumper cables
- Flares or reflective triangles
- An ice scraper
- A car charger for your phone
- A blanket
- A map
- Some sand or cat litter for better tire traction
Check Your Auto Insurance
This is also a good time to make sure you have the auto insurance coverage you need. We can help you find the right insurance coverage to protect you from winter hazards. Give us a call!