10 Essential Winter Weather Driving Tips

Jill Schultz - Sr. Editor, Transportation Safety

January 4, 2024

It’s here — the extreme cold, snow, and ice that are hallmarks of the winter driving season.

Conditions can change quickly, so being prepared for what Mother Nature throws at us can make the difference when it comes to safe travel.

The following are ten guidelines drivers should follow when on the road during hazardous winter weather.

1. Check on road conditions before starting the driving day, and then throughout the day (when it’s safe to do so). Many states provide travel information, including road conditions, on their department of transportation websites. For many states, this information may be accessed by typing the state name and 511 into an internet search engine.

2. Have an emergency toolkit and additional food and clothing.

  • The toolkit should include snow brush and scraper, a small shovel, and traction devices (tire chains, sand).
  • The vehicle should be stocked with extra food and water, blankets, medicine (as needed), and proper outerwear (hat, gloves, boots, heavy jacket).

3. Pay special attention to the following vehicle components during vehicle inspections:

  • Heater and defroster
  • Exhaust system
  • Cooling system/antifreeze
  • Battery
  • Lights
  • Windshield/windshield wipers/windshield washer fluid.

4. Turn on the vehicle’s low beam headlights to increase visibility.

5. Slow down. Speed limits are based on dry pavement and good weather conditions, not adverse winter weather conditions:

  • On a wet surface, reduce vehicle speed by at least one-fourth;
  • On packed snow, vehicle speed should be reduced by at least one-half; and
  • On ice, reduce vehicle speed by at least two-thirds.

6. Allow for additional following distance. It takes longer to brake safely on a snow-covered and/or ice-covered road.

7. Watch for black ice. Black ice forms when temperatures drop rapidly and hover around the freezing mark. Any moisture on the road freezes into a smooth, nearly invisible, slippery surface. Most drivers aren’t aware of black ice until it is too late.

8. Do not use cruise control. Even a short tap on the brakes to deactivate the cruise control feature can cause a loss of vehicle control.

9. Never drive next to a snowplow. If passing a snowplow is necessary, it should be done in a safe and legal passing area that is clear of snow and ice, with enough clearance to the side, as plows are wider than most vehicles and portions of the plow and blade may not be visible due to blowing snow.

10. If it’s too dangerous to continue, pull off in a safe area (truck stop, rest stop) until conditions improve and it is safe to continue.