Driving in Severe Weather

Every day when getting behind the wheel, we take precautions to stay safe – buckle our seat belts, use turn signals, obey traffic signals. When winter comes, we face additional risk on the roads due to severe weather. While the safest decision is to stay off the roads during such times, it's not always an option. If you must drive in severe weather, wait until the snow plows and sanding trucks have had time to do their work and follow the helpful tips below:

Before Leaving Home...
  • Find out about the driving conditions. Visit the Department of Emergency Services website or watch the local news station for information on road conditions. Safe drivers know the weather, and their limits.
  • Clean excess snow from windows, lights, brake lights and signals. Make sure you can see and be seen.
  • Keep your gas tank full to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines.
  • Check your vehicle's tire pressure, wiper blades, fluids, lights, belts and hoses. A breakdown is bad on a good day and dangerous on a bad-weather day.
  • Leave plenty of time to reach your destination safely.
Winter Driving Safety Tips
While Driving...
  • Decrease your speed and leave plenty of room to stop. Allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.
  • Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.
  • Turn on your lights so that other motorists can see you more clearly.
  • Keep your lights and windshield clean.
  • Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
  • Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.
  • Don't pass snow plows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you're likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.
  • Don't assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.
If your rear wheels skid...
  • Take your foot off the accelerator.
  • Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they're sliding right, steer right.
  • If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.
  • If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
  • If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.
If your front wheels skid...
  • Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don't try to steer immediately.
  • As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in "drive" or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.
If you get stuck...
  • Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
  • Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
  • Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.
  • Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.
  • Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner's manual first — it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you're in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.
If you become stranded...
  • Do not leave your car unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to reach help, and are certain you will improve your situation.
  • To attract attention, light two flares and place one at each end of the car safe distance away.
  • If you are sure the car's exhaust pipe is not blocked, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so depending upon the amount of gas in the tank.
  • Keep at least one window open slightly. Heavy snow and ice can seal a car shut.
Prepare your car...
Prepare a winter emergency kit to keep in your car in case you become stranded. Include:
  • booster cables
  • flares
  • tire pump
  • a bag of sand or cat litter
  • compass and maps
  • Ice scraper/snow brush
  • flashlight, battery-powered radio, and extra batteries
  • first-aid kit
  • shovel
  • tool kit
  • Cell phone charger
  • blankets
  • bottled water and non-perishable foods
  • matches or a lighter
Winter Safety Links