Driving in Winter Weather

Being careful is the single most important thing you can do to prevent an accident, especially when roads are covered with snow and ice. If the road you are driving on has snow accumulation, snow blowing across the road, or is covered in ice, you need to maintain a slow speed and proceed cautiously--even if your car has four-wheel drive. Although these vehicles do have better traction in deep snow and mud, and can maintain momentum on slippery surfaces, they won't stop any faster than two-wheel drive cars.

Following are tips you should follow when driving on ice and snow: 

  • Use the three-second rule. According to the National Safety Council, it takes a driver three fourths of a second to react when the driver in front hits the brakes. Pick a fixed object in the distance, such as a telephone pole, and begin counting when the car directly in front of you passes it. If you pass the pole before you count to three, you are not allowing yourself enough distance to stop in an emergency. Add more seconds as weather conditions worsen.
  • Accelerate, turn, and brake slowly and gently. Rapid movements lead to skids and loss of control. If you feel your car starting to slide, pump the brake pedal to slow the car if you have standard brakes. If you have antilock brakes, don't pump, but apply slow steady pressure. If your car starts to skid, slowly let up on the accelerator and steer into the skid.
  • If you get stuck, put the car in drive while accelerating and then into reverse while accelerating. This starts a moderate rocking of the car until your tires start to grip. You may also use sand, gravel, blankets, clothes, kitty litter, or whatever you can place under the tires for traction. If you have rear-wheel drive, place the material under the rear wheels. If you have front-wheel drive, place the material under the front wheels.
  • Very often winter rain freezes immediately, and creates "black ice." If the road looks like it is wet, think "ice" instead. Use extreme caution.
  • Be more observant. Visibility is often limited in winter by weather conditions. You can't see through the snow, so take some extra time to make sure your car is clean and your visibility is good. Clear off the entire car, not just a peephole in the windshield. You need more visibility in poor conditions to keep an eye out for other vehicles and/or obstacles in your path. In cases of bad visibility, reduce your speed, use your low beam lights, use the roadside reflector posts as guides, and pull off at rest stops until visibility becomes better if possible.
  • Stay out of the way of snowplows. Do not try to pass them, especially if a cloud of snow has been kicked up, blocking your visibility.
  • If you have to stop, stay with your car if you are not close to shelter or help. Turn on the engine from time to time, leaving the window open a crack. Make sure your car is as far off the driving surface as possible.
  • Wear your seat belt. 


Return to the Safety Resource Center