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Winter Driving Safety

Every season offers its own driving challenges, but winter can be the most treacherous time of the year to be on the road. Hazardous weather, poor road conditions and the unpredictable actions of other drivers can combine to create very dangerous – or even deadly – driving conditions. Thankfully, being prepared can reduce many of the challenges of winter driving. If you can’t avoid getting behind the wheel, these tips will help keep you safe while driving on wintery roads.

Before you drive

Check the weather forecast before you leave

Weather can change quickly, so it’s essential to stay informed of weather conditions. Follow local weather and traffic reports on television, radio and social media before starting your journey so you can best respond to the conditions on the road. Be especially careful when driving early in the morning and late in the evening when temperatures drop and roads are more likely to freeze over.

Allow extra time to get to your destination

When driving in snowy and icy conditions, leave yourself plenty of time and be prepared to take an alternate route. We recommend mapping them out in advance so you’ll be ready when you need them. Your plans should include ways to avoid the interstate, where winter-related pileups often occur. Just remember, secondary roads may not be as clear as primary roads during and immediately after a snowstorm. Let family and friends know of your travel plans and the route you plan to take.

Bring along a winter car survival kit

Pack up a few essential items and store them in your car during the winter for roadside emergencies.

A winter car emergency kit should typically include:

  • Battery booster cables
  • An ice scraper
  • A portable shovel
  • Sand or kitty litter
  • A blanket

Check to make sure you have at least a half-tank of gas in your car at all times. Keep your cellphone fully charged and with you. For long trips, remember to bring along food, water and medication.

Shovel out your car

Before getting behind the wheel, clear your entire car of snow and ice to prevent a crash. Start at the top of the car and work your way down, clearing snow from the roof, hood, trunk, wheels and tailpipe. Don’t forget to brush off your mirrors, front and back lights and license plates. Driving with snow on the car is dangerous for you and everyone else on the road, and it’s illegal in many states.

While you’re driving

Take your time and drive slowly

The best strategy for driving in winter weather is to slow down and be patient. Most winter accidents are caused by motorists driving too fast in extreme weather conditions. Drive at a slow but consistent speed, and avoid jamming on the breaks or turning suddenly.

Keep your headlights on if it’s difficult to see

Keep the headlights on, even in the daytime, during snow, rain, sleet or overcast conditions to improve your visibility. Many states require headlights to be on when wipers are in use.

Put on your seat belt

Remember to wear your seat belt and secure children properly in age- and size-appropriate car seats. These measures will keep you in the vehicle during a collision and minimize being thrown around inside should you go into a skid or hit an object. All children under age 13 should ride properly buckled in the back seat.

Leave plenty of room

When driving on snow or ice, maintain at least three times the normal following distance. That means driving a full eight to 10 seconds behind the car in front of you. Always be ready to slow down or brake gradually to avoid colliding with the vehicle in front of you. Reduce your speed when approaching intersections so that braking can be done smoothly to avoid skidding.

Use extra caution on bridges and overpasses

Some of the most dangerous road conditions can be found on bridges and overpasses during the winter months. Bridges are exposed to air on all surfaces – on top, underneath and on their sides. When temperatures drop, bridges will cool and accumulate snow and ice faster than roadways. Icy bridges often catch drivers by surprise, and cause more injuries and fatalities than tornadoes, lighting and floods combined each year.

Getting skidding under control

One of the most dangerous driving hazards is a skid. Skids are most likely to happen on curves and turns, so slowing down ahead of time is key. If you go into a skid, act quickly by taking your foot off the gas, staying off the brake and turning the wheel in the direction the vehicle is sliding until you feel some traction. Next, straighten your wheels to regain control. If you need to brake before regaining traction, apply the brake pedal gently to avoid locking the wheels and intensifying the skid.

Stay clear of snow plows and sanders

If you find yourself sharing the road with snowplows, stay well behind them – ideally 70 feet (four car lengths) – and only pass on the left if absolutely necessary. Never pass snowplows on the right side, which is where plows push the snow. Doing so will run the risk of damaging your car, hitting the plow or accidently driving off the road.

If you get stuck or stranded

If your car’s stuck in the snow, there are a few techniques you can use to get it free in a flash. Begin by shoveling snow and ice a few feet in front of and behind your wheels. Spread sand or kitty litter in the area to create traction. Straighten your front wheels and try to rock your car free by switching between forward and reverse. If you’re unable to get unstuck, call Roadside Assistance at 866-286-9968 or a towing company to pull your car out of the snow.

Did you know? As an Amica customer, Roadside Assistance can help you get back on the road, whether or not you have towing and labor coverage. If you don’t have this coverage, you’ll be responsible for your own additional, out-of-pocket expenses.

If you find yourself trapped in your car – whether close to others or in an isolated area – the first thing to do is call 911, if possible. When speaking to authorities, report your location and situation. Don’t hang up until you know with whom you’ve spoken and what will happen next. Remain calm and don't leave your vehicle. Staying in your car will provide shelter and warmth. Run the engine for warmth, but no more than ten minutes per hour. Make sure to leave a window slightly open for ventilation, and don't let the exhaust pipe get clogged. A blocked exhaust can cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to seep into the vehicle.