National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Love it or hate it - winter is here!

It’s no secret that driving in the winter can be an absolute nightmare, and it seems every year motorists have to relearn what it takes to remain prepared and safe on the road. But the truth is, traveling in snow, ice, fog or soaking rain can be a major challenge for even the most experienced motorists. According to the Department of Transportation, there are approximately 1.2 million weather-related vehicle crashes every year - leading to, on average, nearly 6,000 fatalities and over 445,000 injuries. It’s clear we could all use a little refresher when it comes to navigating those slick roads this winter.

Know Before You Go

Sophia’s 3-hour commute in Philly

“I should have known better. I heard the cashier and another customer in line talking about snow or something in the forecast the other day, but I didn’t pay much attention. Here’s the problem. If it so much as drizzles in the morning, there are accidents everywhere and traffic is a royal pain in the you know what. Well, of course, I get up late and am rushing to leave the house. I scrapped a thin layer of ice off my windshield, and I hit the road. I didn’t get far. It was slow going to reach the interstate, but once I’m on 95, I’m at a standstill. There are accidents everywhere! It didn’t seem that bad on the roads, but they were icy, and people must have been driving way too fast. By the time I get to work, it’s nearly lunchtime and I’m frazzled. Ugghhh...I should have been more prepared!”

Before you go tips:

  1. Ready your vehicle. Check your vehicle’s battery, wipers, coolant, tires and other systems that are most affected when the temperature drops. Make sure your tires have good tread. When you know your vehicle is ready for the road, clear your car of snow, ice or dirt from the windows, forward sensors, headlights, tail lights and backup camera.
  2. Stock your vehicle with a winter supply kit that includes: mobile phone, charger, batteries, blankets, flashlight with extra batteries, first-aid kit, high-calorie, non-perishable food, small can with waterproof matches and candle to melt snow for drinking water, sack of sand or cat litter for traction, shovel, windshield scraper and brush, and battery booster cables.
  3. Get the weather forecast and check road conditions. Your drive will be much safer if you know what’s ahead. CHANGE YOUR PLANS if travel is hazardous.

While on the Road

That time when Trevor zipped past a snowplow on a single-lane highway in Indiana

"I was driving from my parents’ home in southern Indiana back to school in Chicago after my winter break. It was snowing pretty hard, but I was still trying to make good time. Being 21 and invincible, I decided to push on and not wait the storm out. I had about 50 feet of visibility and that was plenty for me. At one point, I was slowed down by a snowplow. This was not going to work. So, I did what any sensible 21-year-old would do and tried to pass the plow, while the driver was pushing snow off the road. Snow, gravel and who knows what else ended up all over my car. I made the pass as the driver laid on his horn and flashed his lights. He was not happy. Probably not the brightest decision on my part."

Winter driving tips:

  1. Stay alert. Make sure you keep your gas tank over half full and keep a close eye on road conditions, which can change rapidly. On road trips, take breaks often so you can stay focused on the road.
  2. Drive slower than normal and leave more room between you and surrounding vehicles. DO NOT use cruise control, brake quickly or make sharp turns. You need to change how you normally drive.
  3. Don’t crowd the plow. The road behind an active plow is safer to drive on. Give them plenty of room to work and only pass when it is safe to do so.

Always Focus on Safety

My friend Chad’s SUV once slid backwards ¼ mile down a steep road in northern California

"I was on a ski trip with my buddy Chad in California. We hit Redding and there was a bit of light rain and fog. As we continued up the road, the rain turned to ice pellets and snow. We reached a portion of this hill that was glare ice. The line of cars we were in immediately slowed to a swerving crawl. Our all-season tires were no match for this hill, even with four-wheel drive. WE HAD NO TRACTION! Our vehicle slipped backwards down the hill, did a half turn and ended up off the road resting near a guard rail. One by one, the cars and trucks slid down the hill toward us. We were smart to NOT leave our vehicle, as we could have been pinned by the cars that careened down the hill and struck our vehicle. I’ll bet there were 30 cars and trucks piled up in a mass. It took four hours before we were finally off the road and back at a hotel...sans vehicle. I guess it could have been worse."

Tips to protect you and your loved ones:

  1. Accidents happen. Always wear your seatbelt and ensure everyone in your vehicle does the same. Make sure young children are in car seats.
  2. If you’re involved in an accident, try to pull your vehicle off the road and use hazard lights, flares, reflectors or flashlights to warn other drivers. STAY OFF THE ROAD, dial 911, and wait for the police to arrive.
  3. Drive smart. Don’t text or make phone calls, speed, or drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These activities are always dangerous, but the risk is much higher in winter weather.

Other Sources: NHTSA, DMV