Healthy Family | Home Safety | Health and Wealth | Relationship Issues | Career Advice | Growing Family
Get the SixWise e-Newsletter FREE!
Google Web
Free Newsletter Subscription
Get the Web's Most trusted & Informative Health, Wealth, Safety & More Newsletter -- FREE!


Share Email to a Friend Print This

The Top Six Winter Driving Dangers and How to Handle Them Safely

Dean Martin had no place to go when he sang "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow," but that's not the case for most of us during the winter driving season.

Two People Who Still Don't Get the Free Safety Newsletter

No matter what region of the country you live in, when the weather outside gets frightful, stay safe by following these important guidelines to handle the six most common winter driving hazards.

Approximately 1/4 of all automobile accidents in the United States are caused by adverse weather, much of which can occur unexpectedly.

And 70% of winter deaths attributed to snow and ice involve motor vehicle accidents. So please or print it out for them (especially young, newer drivers), as it could save a lot of frustration and maybe even a life.


"Black" ice is clear water that has frozen on dark roadways, presenting a hidden trap for motorists who cannot see the slick pavement. Black ice is particularly prevalent on bridges, below overpasses and in areas surrounded by trees.

According to Luis R. Ramirez, V Corps safety and occupational health specialist, "The possibility of encountering black ice is greatest when temperatures are near or below freezing." Because road surfaces can freeze long before water freezes (road surfaces can freeze when air temperatures are as warm as 40 degrees F), drivers may think the shiny road surface is water, until their tires start to slip and it's too late.

Black ice can form even when it's not raining or snowing. In freezing areas of the United States, condensation from dew on roadways will freeze, forming a thin layer of ice that creates one of the slickest road conditions there is. Even in areas that aren't accustomed to freezing temperatures, such as the Gulf Coast and Southeast, a sudden blast of cold air from the north can quickly freeze and leave roadways very slick.

It is because black ice can form so quickly and is so camouflaged on the road that Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials call it the deadliest of all winter driving hazards. Here's what to look out for:

  • Pavement that looks dry but appears darker in color

  • Low-lying areas that may have water runoff from nearby trees or land

  • Bridges, which typically freeze first

  • Underpasses and other road areas that are shaded form the sun

  • Air temperatures that fall below 40 degrees F (expect icy conditions)

There are some precautions you can take to lessen your chances of coming into harms way. These include:

Good tires with treading that is not worn are critical for safe driving in any type of weather!

  • Traction, traction, traction. Good tires can mean all the difference when you hit an icy patch. Consider switching to snow tires, and at the very least make sure your existing tires are in good condition.

  • Engage four-wheel drive. If you have it, you can use it, but don't let it make you overly confident. Four-wheel drive will NOT keep your car from sliding on ice if you are driving too fast for conditions.

  • Slow down. Drive cautiously and don't overestimate the safety of road conditions.
  • Don't tailgate. That extra car length can mean all the difference if you lose traction and can't stop.

  • Keep your windshield clean. Ice can be hard to see in the best of conditions, but if your windows are dirty or covered in snow and ice, the chances that you'll see an icy patch are slim.

  • Anticipate traffic lights and intersections. Give yourself longer braking distances than normal. That extra time to slow down can make all the difference if your car starts to slide out of control.

  • Wear your seatbelt!
If you hit a patch of ice, here are some tips to help stay in control:
  • Slow down, but don't brake too quickly. This could lock your brakes and cause you to lose traction completely.

  • Instead, decelerate by taking your foot slowly off the accelerator, and shift the car to neutral or de-clutch (manual transmission).

  • Make smooth steering movements, not jerky turns, and, in the event your car starts to spin, turn your wheel in the direction the spin.

  • If the car is skidding, turn the wheel in the direction you want the car to go.

  • If your car has anti-lock brakes, do not remove your foot from the brake pedal or pump the break. The system should keep the brakes from locking while allowing you to steer and continue to slow down the vehicle.


It doesn't matter how skilled you are at driving if you can't see where you're going. Lack of visibility is one of the top reasons for winter driving accidents. Snow, slush, ice, rain and salt can combine into a literal blindfold for your car's windshield if you don't take these precautions:

  • Take the time to clear all snow and ice from windows, mirrors and headlights before driving (invest in a high-quality snow brush/ice scraper for this purpose).

  • Make sure windshield wipers are in top form all year round.

  • Keep your washer fluid filled, and make sure the fluid has antifreeze capabilities (not all do).

  • Make sure your car's front and rear defrosters are working on windows.

  • Drive at least eight seconds behind snowplows to avoid accidents and spray from snow and salt.
  • Carry de-icing solution in your trunk just in case. Save money by making your own using a mixture of half water and half vinegar.

  • Leave space between the cars around you (spray from other cars is one of the most common barriers to visibility.


The most obvious advice is not to hit the road at all during a blizzard, but if one strikes while you're out on the road:

  • Pull off the highway if lack of visibility poses any risk at all; make sure you pull as far off the highway as possible to avoid rear-end collisions from any oncoming vehicles.

  • Stay calm and remain in your vehicle except for the absolutely necessary reasons defined below. Make sure you have an Auto Emergency Kit and hat, gloves and outerwear on-hand.

  • Set your directional lights to "flashing" and place the reflective triangles and other notification signals from your Auto Emergency Kit around your car so that oncoming vehicles can steer clear of you and police and other assistance vehicles can easily locate you. If you have no other warning signals, tie a piece of brightly colored cloth to your antenna.

  • Run the engine to keep warm, but do so only for about 10 minutes each hour. Be sure to create ventilation by cracking open a window during this time. This will protect passengers from possible carbon monoxide poisoning. Periodically clear away snow from the exhaust pipe for this reason as well.

  • Exercise to maintain body heat, but avoid overexertion.

  • Huddle together for warmth, and wiggle fingers and toes regularly to check for hypothermia or frostbite.

  • Never let everyone in the car sleep at once. One person should look out for rescue crews.

  • Be careful not to use up battery power. Balance electrical energy needs -- the use of lights, heat and radio -- with supply.


As a battery ages, it loses its ability to provide current in low temperatures. This is why battery failure is one of the most common winter driving hazards, particularly in freezing temperatures.

  • Check to make sure your car's battery is in good condition.

  • Clean the lead connections and tighten them securely.

  • If your battery is old, invest in a new one before winter starts.

  • If battery failure does occur, have a power source available in your car for easy on-the-spot jumping. The Century 12 Volt Power Source delivers 900 peak amps that can start cars, trucks and Rvs in emergencies. It retains its charge for about six months and comes fully charged.

  • At the very least, invest in a good set of jumper cables that can get you out of a bind, such as the top-rated Coleman Cable Systems 08665 12' Heavy Duty 4-Gauge Jumper Cables, which will not tangle and provides sufficient length to stretch between cars.


One of the most frightening winter scenarios is to be stranded along an interstate or some remote or unknown area due to your car breaking down or getting stuck in a ditch. The Boy Scouts of America motto stands true here ... Be Prepared!

Equip your car with an emergency car kit. The best value we have found is a 50-Piece Auto Emergency Kit that contains all the essentials in a convenient 20" x 15" carrying case, such as:

  • Reflective triangles to get the attention of emergency vehicles and steer oncoming traffic clear of you (all too common are injuries and deaths from oncoming vehicles hitting pedestrians on the side of the road, so such devices are necessary)

  • Replacement automotive fuses

  • First Aid kit

  • Multi-function Lantern/Flashlight

  • A variety of tools

  • Heavy-duty jumper cables

  • Air compressor

It is also wise to carry a charged cell phone or other communication device with you, especially when driving long distances or to unfamiliar areas, so that you can call for emergency assistance.

  • Keep extra gloves, hats, outerwear and a blanket in the car to stay warm.

  • In freezing temperatures, many people die each year when they leave their vehicle in an attempt to walk to safety in remote regions, according to the National Weather Service. Stranded drivers should stay with the car to wait for help instead, remaining warm by:

If a stranger offers to drive you somewhere to get emergency help, it is recommended that you instead request that they drive there on your behalf and request the help while you remain with your vehicle.

If there are more than one of you in the car, keep the entire party together at all times. This provides both warmth and greater security.

If you routinely drive in very remote areas where emergency vehicle traffic may be sparse, consider investing in a complete flare gun for your vehicle

  • Also see the advice for the #3 item above on blizzards


If you accidentally slide off the road or in some other way find your tires trapped in snow or mud, here are the best solutions to set your auto free:

  • Keep a shovel and bag of sand, salt or cat litter in your trunk. Use the shovel to dig out snow from around your tires, then sprinkle sand (cat litter or salt also works) in front of them to create traction.

  • Try to slowly ease out of the spot without spinning the wheels (accelerating hard will usually just dig deeper ruts).

  • If wheels spin, stop immediately and let tires cool before starting again.

  • Try rocking the vehicle. To do this, shift to second gear or low gear (automatic transmission) and move forward. When the car cannot go any farther, take your foot off the accelerator and as the car rolls back, accelerate slightly. Repeating these steps rapidly can often free the car (but be careful to use gentle acceleration to avoid getting stuck further).

  • Especially in cold weather regions, make sure you always travel with an Auto Emergency Kit (see item 5 above) and hats, gloves and outerwear

  • If all else fails, call a tow truck or use the distress signals in your 5-Piece Auto Emergency Kit to flag down help


Black Ice: The Deadliest Winter Driving Hazard

Driving Safety

AAA News For You

U.S. Department of Transportation

To get more information about this and other highly important topics, sign up for your free subscription to our weekly "Be Safe, Live Long & Prosper" e-newsletter.

With every issue of the free newsletter, you’ll get access to the insights, products, services, and more that can truly improve your well-being, peace of mind, and therefore your life!

Share Email to a Friend Print This