Approximately 70% of winter deaths related to snow and ice occur in automobiles, so drivers must take precautions to stay safe on the roads during the winter. Driving in winter weather can present challenges that can be managed with some basic planning.
Before Winter Weather
- Assemble a Winter Emergency Car Kit Checklist
- Keep your gas tank at least half-full to prevent your fuel line from freezing.
- Install good winter tires with adequate tread and pressure.
- Check your antifreeze, battery, defroster, windshield wipers, wiper fluid, and other vehicle equipment to make sure they are ready for winter driving.
- See Winter Child Passenger Safety Tips for information about car seat safety during the winter.
Avoid driving during winter storms unless it is absolutely necessary. If you must travel, consider taking public transportation.
If You Have to Drive
- Avoid driving during the worst part of the storm. If possible, only travel during daylight hours, don’t travel alone, and stay on main roads instead of taking shortcuts.
- Know the current road conditions. Call 511 or check traffic reports from local media organizations.
- Let others know your destination, route, and expected travel times.
- Allow for extra travel time.
- Keep windows, headlights, taillights, and the roof and hood of your vehicle clear of snow and ice.
- Drive with your headlights on at all times to see and be seen.
- Leave ample braking distance between you and the car in front of you.
- Slow down. Posted speed limits are for dry pavement, not winter driving conditions.
- Use extra caution on bridges and highway ramps. Bridges and overpasses can freeze faster than roadways, and highway ramps may be treated or plowed less than the lanes.
- Avoid using cruise control because roads may have slippery spots.
- Don’t get overconfident in your all-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicle’s traction. Your vehicle may be able to drive in the snow, but it doesn’t help you stop any quicker.
- Stay alert. Snowdrifts can hide children, pedestrians or other vehicles.
- Yield to snow plows, and give them plenty of room to safely do their job. Be patient, stay back at least 200 feet, and don’t pass plows on the right. See more tips on driving near snow plows from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
- Pull off the road as much as possible and turn on your hazard lights. Call 9-1-1 to get assistance. Make yourself visible to rescuers — tie a bright cloth to your antenna or door handle.
- Stay in your vehicle so rescuers are more likely to find you. Do not abandon your car unless you can see a building nearby where you can take shelter.
- Run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes each hour to keep warm. Periodically clear snow from the exhaust pipe to prevent carbon monoxide positioning, and keep a window slightly cracked for fresh air.
- Keep moving to maintain body heat, but avoid overexertion. In extreme cold, use road maps, seat covers, and floor mats for insulation. Huddle with other passengers for warmth.
- Take turns sleeping. One person should be awake at all times to look for rescue crews.
- Drink fluids to avoid dehydration.
- Limit the use of lights, heat, and radio to avoid wasting battery life. However, at night, turn on the inside dome light when the engine is running so that work crews and rescuers can see you.
- Once the snow stops falling, raise the hood to indicate that you need help.
Your winter emergency car kit should include:
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Charged cellphone and automobile charger
- Basic first aid kit
- Necessary medications
- Pocket knife
- Blankets or sleeping bags
- Extra clothes (including rain gear, boots, mittens, socks)
- High-calorie non-perishable foods (dried fruits, nuts, canned food)
- Manual can opener
- Container of water
- Windshield scraper and brush
- Fire extinguisher
- Sand, road salt, or cat litter for traction
- Tire chains or traction mats
- Basic tool kit (pliers, wrench, screwdriver)
- Tow rope
- Battery jumper cables
- Road flares/reflectors
- Brightly colored cloth to use as a flag
- Road maps
For a printer-friendly version of these emergency car supplies, see our Winter Emergency Car Kit Checklist