The Essentials of Winter Driving

CIESC - The Essentials of Winter Driving

Ice and snow can make for a lot of winter fun, whether you’re sledding, skiing, or ice skating. Unfortunately, ice and snow don’t conveniently stay within the ice rinks or on mountain slopes. In Indiana, it also finds its way onto the road. Throughout December, January, February, and March, it’s not uncommon to run into snowdrifts and blowing flakes. 

But no matter how much fun snow days can be, we probably don’t need to tell you that sliding or skidding in your car isn’t a good time. In fact, the Federal Highway Administration estimates that up to 24% of weather-related crashes occur in the snow and ice. Nearly 120,000 people are injured each year on icy pavement. In 2020 alone, the NHTSA reports that 374 fatal crashes occurred in wintry conditions.

Whether you’re a new driver or a seasoned professional, it’s always a good idea to get familiar with these tips for safe winter driving. There’s too much at stake not to make safety your first priority!


Our number-one tip for safe winter driving? Avoid getting on the road whenever possible. Not driving is always safer than getting behind the wheel in less-than-optimal conditions. Monitor the weather and decide if the trip is really worth it before you set out.


Before ever getting behind the wheel (rain, shine, or snow), it’s a good idea to check for active recalls. It’s possible a manufacturer’s error could make your vehicle especially dangerous to drive in wintry conditions. Fortunately, checking for recalls is as simple as entering your VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) into the NHTSA’s Recall Look-up Tool. The good news is that you can often get repairs due to recalls done for free.


While you should always get maintenance on your car to make sure it’s in good shape, it’s even more important to take care of your vehicle when it gets colder. Keep your gas tank at least half full, replace your windshield wipers, check your tire treads and pressure, and keep an emergency kit in your trunk. According to OSHA, having items like blankets, a flashlight, jumper cables, a small shovel, and sand or cat litter (to help tires get traction) on-hand can make all the difference in an emergency. If you’re traveling on remote roads, it’s also advisable to bring water bottles and non-perishable snacks.


Another essential piece of winter car equipment is an ice-scraper. Before taking off, scrape the snow and ice off all of your windows and outside mirrors, and make sure your headlights and brake lights aren’t covered as well. Turn on your window heaters to help melt the ice and, as a bonus, warm up your car’s interior.


Keep an eye on the road and pay attention to how your car handles as you drive. Even if the street has been plowed and looks safe, there could still be ice patches blending into the pavement. Stay on the safe side and drive as if the road is littered with ice patches (because it very well could be). Take special care when going over bridges since cold air can flow underneath and keep them icy longer than the rest of the road. In addition to the traditional five senses, don’t forget to keep a healthy dose of common sense. If something seems dangerous, it probably is. You’re always better safe than sorry!


When it comes to getting your car in motion, be sure to accelerate and decelerate slowly,  and don’t press on your gas and brake pedals too hard. Instead, tap them softly to avoid skidding or spinning your wheels. 

You should also be extra wary of stopping distances and give yourself plenty of time to slow down and stop without sliding. If your car begins to slide, how you should handle it depends on the type of brake system your vehicle has. 

If your car has an anti-lock brake system (ABS), you should firmly press on the brake pedal and hold it. On the other hand, drivers without ABS will need to pump the brakes to keep the car as straight as possible.


Stay as far from other motorists as possible, especially during winter weather. In good conditions, you should maintain a 2-3 seconds distance behind the car ahead of you. Safe Motorist says your following distance should increase to at least 5-6 seconds in wintery or icy conditions.


If you do end up sliding, steer in the direction of the skid. That way, when you regain traction, you won’t overcorrect and drift out of your lane. If you’re able to slow down and pull over safely, do so by repeatedly tapping the brakes instead of holding the pedal down. When you pump the brakes, it keeps the wheels from locking up and helps you maintain control of your vehicle. 

It’s vital to remain calm in these types of situations. After all, getting overly stressed will only cloud your judgment and make you prone to poor decisions. But by reviewing these steps and getting plenty of practice, you’ll gain confidence and become better equipped to handle wintry conditions.

Driving takes a lot of responsibility in the best conditions, and that responsibility just grows as the roads deteriorate. Above all else, remember to take your time and be careful – your loved ones and every other driver will thank you. 

Learn to drive in all conditions today with our traditional class or Behind the Wheel lessons. Do your part to keep your community safe and sound.

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