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5 Winter Driving Safety Tips to Know

A woman drives in the winter

Winter conditions can make driving dangerous in many parts of the country as people are faced with snow, ice, and freezing temperatures. To avoid an accident, it’s important to prepare your car for the season and drive safely while on the roads. We spoke with AAA to get advice on how to stay safe while driving this winter.

Check Your Tires

A car in the snow
New Africa/Shutterstock.com

Your tires are the main thing keeping your car moving safely along winter roads. According to Dr. William Van Tassel, manager of AAA driver training, checking your tires is one of the most important things you can do to drive safely this winter.

Before the weather starts to get nasty, check your tire pressure and add air if any tires are low. If your tires are underinflated, you’ll have much less traction on the road, exactly when you need the most traction, Dr. Van Tassel said.

AstroAI Digital Tire Pressure Gauge

Check your tire pressure easily.

Cold weather decreases air pressure in your tires, so it’s a good idea to check them every two weeks or so to make sure your pressure hasn’t gone down, even if you aren’t driving very much.

If you live somewhere that experiences frequent snowfall in the winter, you may want to replace your regular tires with snow tires for the season. Snow tires are made with a different kind of rubber and stay flexible even when the temperature outside is below freezing.

A good amount of tread is also necessary for your vehicle to maintain its grip on wet roads, according to Dr. Van Tassel. You can check your tread by placing a penny in the groove. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, you need to get your tires changed.

Snow tires are designed with tread patterns that will grip ice and snow better than an all-season tire. You can purchase snow tires at most tire and auto repair shops.

Prepare Your Car

Someone pours antifreeze or wiper fluid in a car

Make sure your car is in good working order before venturing out into cold weather. Check your lights to ensure they are working correctly so you can see through fog and snow, and test your wiper blades to make sure they don’t have any issues clearing away rain or snow.

Finally, check your fluids every month or so. Wiper fluid helps you maintain visibility while driving in poor weather if you need to get rid of dirt, frost, or slush on your windshield while driving.

Wiper fluid is usually blue, and the reservoir under the hood of your car will be marked with a “Washer Fluid Only” sign and a windshield wiper icon. If your wiper fluid is low, add fluid until it reaches the “full” mark in the tank.

PEAK (PWN0G3) -20°F Windshield Washer Fluid

A ready-to-use formula for most cars.

Antifreeze, or coolant, is another important fluid you don’t want to run out of during the winter. This fluid helps regulate the temperature of your engine during extreme conditions.

Antifreeze liquid is usually red, green, or yellow and should be labeled under the hood of your car. You should be able to see the fill line and determine if your antifreeze level is low. If it is, you can purchase more at a general store and top it off.

Your car manual will give specific instructions about what type of coolant to use, or you can have a mechanic take care of the process for you.

Create an Emergency Kit

The back of a car filled with gear

Being stranded in winter weather can be dangerous. Dr. Van Tassel recommends storing an emergency kit in your car at all times to use when needed.

Some items to add to your kit include water and food, a car charger, an extra phone charger, and a flashlight with fresh batteries. You should also have some extra clothes available, like a warm jacket, socks, gloves, and a hat.

Augason Farms BE Ready 1-Week Emergency Food Supply

Store these emergency rations in your car for up to 25 years.

Car-related items should also be added, including flares or reflective triangles, an ice scraper, a car jack, towels, and a basic toolkit. Jumper cables, emergency flares, and a battery-powered radio can also help you get help sooner.

STDY Car Roadside Emergency Kit

Stash this kit in your car.

If you aren’t already a member, consider signing up for AAA before bad weather hits. The American Automobile Association, or AAA, is known for its yearly membership that provides roadside assistance and other perks for drivers. The basic plan offers roadside assistance, including battery restarts and emergency refueling, which can be invaluable if your car breaks down in the freezing cold.

Slow Down and Be Visible

A car driving at night in the winter

Prepping your car is only one component of staying safe on the road this winter. How you drive is also important, according to Dr. Van Tassel.

Because wet and icy roads make it difficult to stop, drive at a slower speed when the roads are bad to avoid getting in an accident. Dr. Van Tassel noted that your tires have far less traction on wet roads, so you have to drive slower to experience the same traction you have on dry roads.

You should also increase the distance between you and the cars in front of you. Dr. Van Tassel recommends increasing your following distance to at least five or six seconds while driving in poor weather. You should also keep at least one side of your vehicle open at all times so that you have an open space to steer to if your car begins to slide.

Heavy snowfall, rain, or hail can make it difficult to see even when it isn’t dark outside. If your car doesn’t have automatic lights, always turn your lights on while driving in poor weather. Not only will this help you see better, but it will also allow other cars to see you from a distance, making the roads safer for everyone.

While new vehicle technology can be useful, Dr. Van Tassel says you should avoid relying on your car’s features to keep you safe.

“Technologies such as anti-lock brakes, stability control, and lane keeping assist are great, but they should only be considered as backups to good driving practices,” he said. “If they intervene for you, you’ve probably missed something important.”

Check the Weather

A woman looks outside at the snow
Mariana Serdynska/Shutterstock.com

Regardless of how prepared you and your car are, you should always be aware of what the weather is going to look like while you’re on the road. Below-freezing temperatures after a rainstorm, for example, will create different driving conditions than heavy snowfall.

KALEVOL Weather Station Indoor Outdoor Thermometer

This digital thermometer will give you plenty of information about the weather forecast.

Avoid driving at night when possible during the winter, as it is more difficult to see during this time, especially if it is snowing or raining outside. Try to build in extra time when driving during the winter so you can slow down on the roads without feeling stressed.

Finally, consider rescheduling drives during winter storms or particularly bad weather. This isn’t always possible, of course, but if you can change your plans, staying off the roads during bad weather is the easiest way to stay safe.

It’s the most beautiful time of the year…except when it comes to driving. Here’s how to stay safe on the roads this winter, whatever weather you face.

Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Mental Floss and Well + Good, and she recently published her first novel, What it Takes to Lose. When she's not writing, Anne loves to travel (19 countries and counting), spend time outside, and play with her dog, Pepper. Read Full Bio »
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