Preparing for Driving in Winter Weather

The colder months of the year are among the most dangerous to drive in, due to decreased daylight hours, decreased visibility due to precipitation like sleet, snow, and rain, and slick roads from ice and slush. More than 70% of the nation’s roads are in areas that experience more than an average of five inches of snow per year, so all drivers should be prepared to drive in winter weather.

Every year, more than 116,000 Americans sustain injuries and another 1,300 are killed on pavement that is icy, snowy, or slushy. Many of these injuries and deaths result from car accidents. The most common day for car accidents is the first snowy day of the season; in fact, research has found that deadly car accidents are 14% more likely to occur on the first snowy day of the season than any other day after it.

In light snow, freeway speeds are reduced by between 3% and 13%. In heavy snow, freeway speeds are reduced by between 5% and 40%. Though slower speeds do decrease the chances of car accidents, there are other measures that are taken to ensure that the roads are more safe. Maintenance of winter roads actually accounts for about 20% of state Department of Transportation maintenance budgets, which is a drop in the bucket compared with the $700 million per day in direct and indirect costs when roads are impassable.

Driving in winter weather also involves practicing good driving behaviors like following traffic laws, going the speed limit, and wearing a seatbelt. Drivers should also always give themselves enough time to travel to their destinations. To ensure that they are fully prepared in the event of an accident, it’s good practice to keep an emergency kit in the car with blankets, bottled water, granola bars, and a cell phone charger. 

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