Safe Driving in Winter Weather
Jan 03, 2019 10:00AM
● By Alyssa McGinnis
RAS Ergonomics and Loss Control Specialist
Driving in winter weather is quite challenging in a number of ways due to snow, sleet, black ice, freezing rain, and extremely cold temperatures. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), about 70% of accidental deaths in winter occur from automobile or transportation accidents. This translates to about 900 deaths and 76,000 injuries that are associated with vehicle crashes during snowfall or sleet. Nearly 70% of the US population live in snowy regions where as many as 70% of the nation’s roads are located1. Unpredictable severe weather changes in the form of snow, ice, hail storms, snow squall, and snow blizzards often pose extreme dangers to drivers as they usually result in multiple catastrophic accidents.
Some of the major hazards of driving in winter include:
Poor traction due to reduced frictional surfaces and forces between vehicle tires and the road surfaces that are covered in snow or ice sheets. The ability to stop is reduced resulting in a doubling of the breaking distance and increased stopping distance by up to 3 to 12 times than required on dry roads2.
Poor road conditions from slippery surfaces especially at intersections, curves, and hills. Of particular note is black ice, which is a thin transparent coat of very slippery ice that appears as black and shining asphalt, usually on bridges and overpasses.
The inability to properly see or be seen by other road users because of snow/ice coverings and road splatters on windshields, side glasses and mirrors, headlights, tail lights, and turn signals.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends a three-P approach for safe winter driving:
PREPARE for trips
PREVENT crashes on the road3
To prepare, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), you need to go over a safety checklist in order to winterize your car by checking the radiators, tires, wiper blades, heater and defroster, lights, brakes, exhausts, windows and mirrors, and battery. Also, ensure your gas tank is as full as possible. It is important to monitor the weather forecast, have emergency items (flashlight, warning devices like flares, jumper cables, shovel, snow brush, and ice scraper) on hand, plan your route, and practice cold weather driving4. In addition, you must clear snow from windshields, side mirrors, fog lights, and the tail pipe. Do not allow your vehicle engine to run inside a closed attached garage.
To protect yourself, you must buckle up and ensure minors use age-appropriate seats, drive slowly, keep your cell phone charged, and always stay vigilant and attentive. In an emergency, stay inside the vehicle with your hazard lights turned on. Avoid asphyxiation from carbon monoxide poisoning by ensuring your windows are slightly open and the tail pipe is not blocked.
To prevent crashes, avoid drug and alcohol consumption when driving, drive at reduced speed, increase following distance between you and the vehicle ahead, avoid fatigue, watch out for pedestrians, and do not apply the brake suddenly. Other safety measures include avoiding or driving carefully on black ice; slowing down and allowing enough distance when approaching a hill, curve, or intersection; avoiding using cruise control when the road is wet or slippery; re-routing or rescheduling travel plans in the event of a severe winter weather advisory; and staying at home, if possible!
Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Road Weather Management Program. Snow and Ice. Retrieved from https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/weather/weather_events/snow_ice.htm
Infrastructure Health and Safety Association. Your Guide to Safe, Efficient, Winter Driving. Equipment, Hazards, Techniques. Retrieved from https://www.ihsa.ca/PDFs/Products/Id/B010.pdf
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Safe Winter Driving. Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/Publications/SafeDriving.pdf
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Winter Driving Tips. Retrieved from https://www.nhtsa.gov/winter-driving-tips
Gbenga Ogungbe is a board Certified Safety Professional (CSP), a member of the Board of Directors of the Minnesota State Academies, and a member of the American Society of Safety Professionals. He is an Ergonomics and Loss Control Specialist with RAS.