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Navigating Winter Roads: Tips for Driving in the Snow

By preparing beforehand and being alert to hazards on the road, you can better protect yourself while driving in the winter.

Safe winter travel begins before you ever leave your house. This checklist can help every driver master the three Ps of safe winter driving (according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration): Prepare for the trip, protect yourself and prevent crashes on the road. Here are some tips for driving in the snow.

Before winter

  • Prepare an emergency winter kit

    Charge your cellphone and pack a charger. Assemble a car emergency kit with blankets, sleeping bags, warm clothes and boots. Remember to have your usual car emergency kit ready, too, along with a windshield brush and scraper, shovel and road salt.

  • Check your tires

    Your tires are the only part of the vehicle that touches the road. They’re one place not to cut corners. Winter car maintenance begins with regular rotations and alignment checks. Check your tire pressure and tread depth, and replace tires when their time has come. Using a tire wear chart can help determine when tires should be replaced.

    Snow tires, or winter tires, allow your car to gain more traction on icy roads. While they’re an additional cost and trip to an auto shop, they offer a great safety feature compared to all-season tires.

    You can also use tire chains, or snow chains, when driving in icy conditions, but states have differing laws on when and where they can be used.

  • Understand how vehicle safety features work

    Knowing which car safety features your vehicle has and how they work can help you better understand how to drive in the snow. Antilock brakes help prevent skidding by keeping your car’s wheels from locking up. Electronic stability control (ESC) works automatically and helps stabilize your car if it veers off the road. Adaptive headlights can adjust the illumination and angle of your headlights depending on road conditions. However, these features don’t substitute for safe and alert driving practices when on the road.

Prepare before you hit the road

  • Check the weather forecast

    Weather can change quickly, so it’s important to stay informed of weather conditions. Follow your local winter weather forecast 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.

  • Plan your route and allow extra time

    Plan the safest way to go, giving yourself extra time as needed. Be sure to share your travel plans with friends or family.

  • Get your vehicle ready

    Fill up your gas tank, windshield washer fluid and antifreeze. Check your tire pressure and treads and make sure your windshield wipers and headlights are working.

    Many states have laws about operating vehicles with significant amounts of snow or ice on them. Before you hit the road, clear snow and ice from your hood, roof, lights, windows and sensors. Always check your tailpipe for snow blockages to prevent carbon monoxide (CO) buildup.

    If your car is an electric or hybrid vehicle, plug it in as often as possible when parked.

Safe driving techniques in the snow

  • Drive slowly and patiently

    More common tips for driving in the snow are to avoid cruise control and sudden braking. It takes longer to stop on snow and ice, so keep more space between you and the vehicle ahead of you. Give snowplows and salt trucks plenty of room to do their work.

  • Headlights on

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

    You can also utilize your car’s fog lights if available. These additional lights are mounted lower on the vehicle to help illuminate the road.

  • Maintaining distance

    When driving in winter road conditions, 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.

  • Handling skids

    Skids are one of the most dangerous driving hazards. They’re 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.

    Antilock brakes became standard on new cars in 2004 and are designed to prevent wheels from locking. Cars with traditional braking systems make braking in adverse conditions more difficult. In either case, it’s important to stay calm and avoid overcorrecting the skid and potentially rolling the vehicle over.

Navigating special winter road challenges

  • Bridge and overpass awareness

    Bridges and exit ramps tend to freeze before other parts of the roadway. Bridges are exposed to air on all surfaces – on top, underneath and on their sides. When temperatures drop, they cool and accumulate snow and ice faster than roadways, often catching drivers by surprise.

  • Uphill and downhill driving

    Driving up and downhill in snowy conditions requires deliberate action. Apply even pressure on the gas to avoid skidding out of control as you travel uphill. Shift into a lower gear and apply the same gentle pressure on the brake as you descend a hill. Safe braking in snow requires steady speed and a safe following distance.

  • 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. Snowplow safety dictates that you 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.

  • Stuck or stranded situations

    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 cat 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 a towing company to pull your car out of the snow.

    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 10 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 CO gas to seep into the vehicle.

  • Stay safe out there

    Follow these steps when cold weather is on the horizon to ready your car and prepare yourself to safely handle your vehicle on the road in any situation.

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


To maintain reliable braking and performance in snow and ice, winter tires should be replaced when they’re 50% worn. You can use a tire tread depth gauge to check the tread depth. Less than 7/32” means it’s time to replace them.

To keep your car battery ready during cold weather, make sure to drive at least 30 minutes continuously during the week to allow the alternator to recharge it. You’ll also want to keep the car garaged when possible, and safely clean the battery terminals if there are any signs of corrosion.

Keeping your gas tank topped off in winter is a good practice for a few of reasons. A full tank prevents frozen gas lines and condensation buildup in the fuel tank. You’ll also have enough fuel in case of an emergency.

All vehicle owners should practice safe driving habits in winter. That said, electric vehicles have a different braking system and may experience braking difficulty in colder weather. 

Electric vehicles (EVs) should be started and warmed up while still in the charging station to avoid the initial battery drain while heating. Hybrids and gas-powered vehicles don’t require the same preparation as EVs, but it’s important to monitor your range in all vehicles to avoid being stranded in cold weather.

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