The Dos and Don’ts of Winter Driving

Winter comes every year, but it never fails to surprise us. The harsh weather conditions it brings dramatically impact road safety, leading to a higher proportion of accidents.

“Drivers already have a lot to think about to stay safe, and winter driving adds to the challenge,” says Nigel Tunnacliffe, co-founder and CEO of Coastline Academy, the nation’s largest and fastest-growing driving school. “As the world throws more surprises at us, it becomes increasingly important to prepare effectively beforehand, both on and off the road.”

Following are some of the top do’s and don’ts when it comes to driving safely during winter:

Don’ts of Winter Driving

  1. Don’t wait to winter-proof your car. It’s not uncommon for people to put off winter-proofing their cars until it is already too late. Winter weather is often unpredictable, and the first snow of the season can catch you unprepared. Rather than risking even a short drive in flurry-like conditions, make sure to put on winter tires and make any necessary adjustments as soon as temperatures begin to drop. 
  2. Don’t tailgate. Snow and ice greatly increase stopping distance, which heightens the risk of accidents. We often overestimate the time it takes to break, so playing it safe and leaving a wide berth behind the car in front of you is always important. Simply slamming on the brakes will not help either, as it increases the risk of skidding and losing control–instead, it’s best to slow down and pull off to the side of the road if possible.
  3. Don’t over-correct if you spin out. Skidding on ice sometimes occurs during winter, and it’s crucial to know how to react to this situation.  “Often, it’s not simply the car skidding that causes accidents–it’s the driver’s over-correction,” says Tunnacliffe. “Loss of control is scary, but suddenly jerking the wheel makes it even harder to regain that control. Instead, do your best to stay calm and continue steering as usual, as this will help you regain traction.”
  4. Don’t idle. Idling during the winter is especially hard on your engine. While people sometimes let their car idle for a couple of minutes to warm up before driving, the best thing to do is to let it warm up by getting in and driving slowly. Although this does not present an immediate danger, it heightens the long-term risk of engine failure, which can be extremely dangerous.
  5. Don’t drive too fast. This is a simple point, but it always bears repeating. “Driving more slowly is always one of the best things you can do to ensure your own safety, and it’s especially important during the winter,” says Tunnacliffe. “Winter comes with the fatal combination of lower visibility and greater stopping distance, both of which can be mitigated by simply driving slower. Working this fact into your plans by leaving earlier and allowing yourself more time to get to your destination can help you remember this crucial step.”

Do’s of Winter Driving

  1. Get a winter check. It’s always a good idea to start off the season by going to your mechanic for a winter check-up. The mechanic will check things like your brakes, your coolant, and other parts of your engine, all of which experience extra wear and tear during the winter. Because they’re not externally visible, it’s easy to forget about them, but the consequences of ignoring them can be fatal. A check-up at the start of the winter will ensure that your vehicle is equipped to handle the rest of the season.
  2. Put on winter tires. As a matter of safety, you should always bring out your winter tires as soon as possible. Well-inflated winter tires are one of the most important safety features you can adopt during the winter, as they assist in braking, preventing skidding, and more. Despite their name, ‘all-season tires’ simply do not cut it when compared to winter tires.
  3. Have a quality ice scraper. A quality ice scraper is an important tool for maintaining visibility, which is crucial in the snowy conditions and reduced daylight hours that come with the season, depending on where you are located. Many scrapers also come with brooms for removing snow from the hood of your car, which you should always make sure to do before leaving for a drive to avoid blinding the drivers behind you.
  4. Check your emergency kit. An emergency kit is always important to have, but you should make a point of checking it at the beginning of winter. This way, you can replenish essential items, such as flashlight batteries and first aid supplies, and ensure that you have packed seasonally appropriate items such as a warm blanket, warm clothes, and a snow shovel along with salt or sand in case your car gets stuck in the snow.
  5. Plan your trips. When it comes to winter driving, preparation, and precaution are essential to safety. “Taking steps to prevent accidents before they occur is just as important as any maneuver you can make during a moment of crisis,” says Tunnacliffe. “Always be sure to check the weather before going out, and take extra care before going for long drives, especially when it’s dark out. If you are traveling far, make sure to plan for rest stops or even overnight stays, and make sure that you have communicated with someone at home and someone at your destination so that multiple parties can act if anything goes wrong.”

Although winter driving can be intimidating, it does not have to be. Putting safety first and ensuring that you and your vehicle are ready for all that the season may bring can help you feel more confident—and competent—in dealing with these changing conditions.




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Noman covers automotive news and reviews for Unfinished Man. His passion for cars informs his in-depth assessments of the latest models and technologies. Noman provides readers with insightful takes on today's top makes and models from his hands-on testing and research.

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