Winter Driving Advice: Practical Tips

Winter driving requires extra caution and preparation due to challenging road conditions and extreme weather.

At The Wiser Driver Driving School, we aim to equip you with practical tips to stay safe on the road during the colder months.

How to Prepare Your Vehicle for Winter

Ensuring your vehicle is ready for winter is non-negotiable. Every year, approximately 76,000 drivers are injured in winter-weather crashes. Preparation can make a significant difference in reducing this risk.

Tire Maintenance

Good tires are essential for traction on snow and ice. Winter tires provide the best grip, reducing accidents by up to 36%. Regularly check tire pressure since it drops with the temperature. Use a tire gauge to ensure your tires remain within the recommended PSI range. Don’t overlook tread depth – at least 6/32 of an inch is advisable for winter driving. If you can, consider investing in a set of snow tires to enhance grip and control on icy surfaces.

Fluids Check

Fluids are your car’s lifeline during winter. Keeping your gas tank at least half full can prevent fuel lines from freezing. Winter-grade oil flows more easily in cold temperatures, so switch to a thinner oil if you’re in a particularly cold region. Antifreeze, or coolant, is vital to your engine’s health; make sure it’s topped up and the mixture is appropriate for colder weather. Also, keep your windshield washer fluid filled with a blend that won’t freeze in low temperatures. Frozen washer fluid can render your wipers useless, leading to reduced visibility.

Battery Health

Cold weather dramatically diminishes battery capacity, making failures more common. Inspect your battery before winter sets in. Ensure the connections are clean and corrosion-free. A battery over three years old might need a thorough check or even replacement. The American Automobile Association (AAA) reports that battery failure is a leading cause of roadside assistance calls during winter months, underlining the importance of this check.

Are Your Tires Ready for Winter?

Taking these steps not only reduces the risk of winter accidents but also ensures that you’re not left stranded on the road. For more detailed maintenance tips, check out our vehicle maintenance guide. Understanding these basics can keep you safer on your winter journeys.

How to Drive Safely in Winter

Driving safely in winter requires adapting to the unique challenges presented by snow, ice, and reduced visibility. Here are actionable tips to help you navigate winter roads effectively.

Reduce Speed and Increase Following Distance

Winter driving means adjusting your speed. Slowing down greatly reduces the risk of skidding. States such as Michigan have seen a significant reduction in winter road accidents when drivers lowered their speeds by 10-15%. Additionally, increasing your following distance by doubling the usual space between vehicles can help prevent collisions. According to the Federal Highway Administration, stopping distances can be up to ten times longer on icy roads, emphasizing the importance of maintaining adequate space.

Use Smooth and Controlled Movements

Abrupt maneuvers can lead to loss of control. Whether accelerating, braking, or steering, smooth and controlled movements are critical. This technique helps maintain traction and vehicular stability. For example, gently apply the accelerator to start moving from a standstill and steer in small, deliberate motions. Sudden movements can disrupt control and cause accidents. Studies show that vehicles handled with gentle inputs are less likely to lose traction, especially in snowy conditions.

Understand and Practice Braking in Ice and Snow

Braking on icy or snowy surfaces requires special techniques. Utilize your vehicle’s anti-lock braking system (ABS) by firmly pressing the brake pedal and letting the system pulse, ensuring the tires maintain maximum traction. For vehicles without ABS, pump the brakes gently to avoid lockup. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), ABS-equipped vehicles show a 22% improvement in preventing multi-vehicle crashes in winter conditions.

How Effective is ABS in Winter?

Practicing these braking methods in a controlled environment, such as an empty parking lot, can reduce panic and improve response during real situations. It’s also essential to decelerate well in advance of intersections and sharp turns to maintain control and improve safety.

For more strategies on navigating challenging driving conditions, see our guide on safe driving in bad weather.

Follow these practical tips to drive more safely in winter and mitigate the risks associated with hazardous road conditions.

Emergency Preparedness

Keep an Emergency Kit in the Car

Having an emergency kit in your car is vital. A well-stocked kit can be a lifesaver during a winter breakdown. According to AAA, typical emergency kit items include a flashlight, batteries, flares or reflective triangles, a first-aid kit, and basic tools like a wrench and pliers. Adding warm clothing, blankets, non-perishable snacks, and a portable phone charger ensures you can endure the cold if stranded. Snow shovels, ice scrapers, and sand or kitty litter for traction are also important. These supplies can help you manage minor issues without awaiting roadside assistance in freezing conditions. For more detailed suggestions on what to pack, see our guide on roadside emergency kits.

Know How to Handle Skids and Stalls

Understanding how to manage your vehicle during a skid or stall can prevent accidents. If your car starts skidding, steer gently in the direction you want to go, and avoid braking abruptly. For front-wheel skids, ease off the gas and steer where you want to go. In rear-wheel skids, steer into the direction of the slide. Practicing these techniques in a safe, open area can build confidence.

Fact - What Should Be in Your Car's Emergency Kit?

When your car stalls, especially in the middle of traffic, remain calm. Turn on your hazard lights immediately to warn other drivers. If possible, try to move your vehicle to the side of the road. If the engine won’t restart, stay inside the car, especially in inclement weather. Exiting your vehicle can be more dangerous, increasing the risk of being hit by passing cars. Alert the authorities or roadside assistance with a call.

Stay Informed About Weather Conditions

Driving without being aware of current and forecasted weather conditions is a major risk. Check weather reports before leaving and monitor updates during the journey. This information can help plan safer routes or decide on postponing non-essential trips. Winter storms and sudden weather changes can dramatically affect road safety. According to the National Weather Service, keeping informed about storms and potential sudden changes in conditions can drastically reduce accident risks. Apps and online resources provide real-time updates on weather and road conditions, helping drivers stay prepared and make informed decisions. For comprehensive strategies on handling hazardous driving situations, check out our guide on reacting to road hazards.

Taking these precautionary steps and techniques not only enhances safety but can also save lives during winter drives.


Preparing your vehicle for the winter months is key to staying safe on the road. From ensuring your tires have good tread and maintaining adequate tire pressure to checking your fluids and battery health, these steps can significantly minimize the risk of accidents. Winter tires can reduce incidents by up to 36%, and AAA’s statistics underline the importance of a reliable battery in cold conditions.

Fact - Are You Winter-Ready?

Driving safely requires adjusting your habits to cope with snow, ice, and limited visibility. Reducing speed and increasing following distances can prevent skidding and collisions, especially when braking distances can be ten times longer on icy roads. Smooth and controlled movements, along with a solid understanding of ABS braking methods, are essential for maintaining control and avoiding accidents.

Emergency preparedness cannot be overstated. Keeping an emergency kit in your car may be a lifesaver during breakdowns. Essential items like a flashlight, warm clothing, and non-perishable snacks are crucial. Knowing how to handle skids and stalls and staying informed about weather conditions can further enhance your safety.

At The Wiser Driver Driving School, we offer comprehensive programs designed to boost your driving confidence, covering everything from Joshua’s Law classes to defensive driving courses. Our professional and reputable instruction ensures you’re well-prepared for any driving scenario. Check out more about our offerings at The Wiser Driver.

For additional insights on maintaining vehicle control in emergencies, visit our guide on maintaining control.

Stay safe this winter by preparing your vehicle, adapting your driving techniques, and always being ready for emergencies.