Navigating Winter Roads: Are You Prepared This Season?

Cars driving on wet road in the rain. Winter car accidents can be scary.

Winter is a time for family gatherings, hot chocolate, and holiday cheer. It’s also the season that brings bad weather – rain, sleet, hail, fog, and snow can all turn your morning commute into a nightmare. While you might think snow is the most dangerous condition to drive in, rain actually tops the list. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation 46% of weather-related accidents are caused by rainy conditions.

Whether you’re staying in Southern California or traveling this holiday season, it’s always a good idea to be prepared for driving in bad weather. Keep these safety tips in mind when you hit the road this winter. 


Check Tires and Windshield Wipers

Did you know that your tire pressure and car battery drop when the temperature drops? Check that your tires are properly inflated and have enough tread. You’ll need all the traction on slippery and wet roads, so if your tires are worn out, it’s best not to drive in bad weather conditions. Additionally, make sure you have a spare tire in your car in case you need to switch it out. 

Check that your windshield wipers are in good condition. If you don’t use your windshield wipers regularly, you’ll want to make sure they’re working before driving on a rainy day. If you plan on driving in freezing temperatures, load some wiper fluid that contains antifreeze. Remove any snow or ice from your windows using an ice scraper. 

Pro tip: If your car starts to skid or hydroplane, do not slam on the brakes. Take your foot off the gas and turn the wheel in the direction you want to go and avoid any jerky movements. Your tires will gradually gain traction as you slow down. As your car slows down, lightly press on the brake pedal until your ABS (anti lock brakes) engage and you feel the pedal vibrate. If your car doesn’t have ABS, gently pump on the brake pedal.


Preparation for natural disasters. It's always a good idea to have an emergency kit.

Carry an Emergency Kit

No matter the season, you should always have a stocked emergency kit stowed away in your car. Once you have all the basic items like a first aid kit, flashlight, water, and some non-perishable snacks like trail mix or jerky, pack these extra winter emergency kit items:

  • Ice scraper
  • Snow shovel
  • Blanket 
  • Warm clothes
  • Cell phone charger 
  • Jumper cables
  • Snow chains
  • Sand, salt, or kitty litter in case your car gets stuck in the snow


Turn On Your Headlights

Even if it’s just foggy or raining, you’ll want to keep your headlights on. Actually, it is a law in California that when visibility is less than 1,000 feet, your headlights must be on. Especially during the cold winter months when there is less daylight, turning on your headlights increases your visibility. But, most of all, having your headlights and taillights on makes it easier for other cars to see you – and can avoid the all-too-common incident of being rear-ended.


Increase Your Distance

Rear-end collisions are one of the most common vehicle accidents in Southern California. If you maintain a safe distance between you and the car ahead of you, you can avoid this common accident. Under normal driving conditions, it is recommended that you follow the 3-second rule. According to The National Safety Council, it recommended that all drivers adhere to a minimum three-second following distance. This means that when a car passes any given point, you should be able to count to three full seconds before you cross that same point. However, during adverse weather conditions, you should increase your distance beyond the three-second rule. 


Don’t Use Self-Driving or Cruise Control Feature

Don’t let your car do the hard work for you this winter. While it may be tempting to use your car’s hands-free option, it can spell danger on slippery and icy roads. Snow and rain can obscure and confuse sensors, hide markings or signs on the road, and make your car’s internal system go on the fritz. It’s best to stay in full control of your car when the weather isn’t ideal.

Another very important tip: never use cruise control during rainy, snowy, or icy conditions. If your car starts to hydroplane, cruise control can interfere with your brake system. 


Stay Alert

Multitasking is a great skill to have, but not while driving. Winter roads are not the place to catch up on emails or shop for last minute presents. In fact, one of the leading causes of car accidents is distracted driving. To avoid distraction, plan your route in advance and use your cell phone for emergencies only. If you become drowsy on the road, pull off to the side of the road – but in a safe area away from oncoming traffic. Staying alert and focused on the road during inclement weather is crucial to avoiding an accident. 

Hazardous weather condition on the road.

Reduce Your Speed

Winter isn’t a great time to speed race with your buddies. When it’s raining outside, leave extra time to get to your destination and expect to drive under the speed limit. You’ll never know what you might encounter on a wintry road or highway, so it’s best to drive slow and steady. 


Watch Out for Black Ice

Black ice is one of the scariest things you can encounter on the road. This transparent ice commonly forms on bridges and overpasses, but can be found virtually anywhere with below freezing temperatures. If you do drive over black ice and start to skid, try to do as little as possible and keep the steering wheel straight. Be especially careful if you plan on driving at night or early in the morning, as this is when black ice usually forms. 


Finally, Stay Home

The best safety tip? Stay home and avoid driving in inclement weather. If weather conditions are worse than normal in your area, do not risk commuting in it. Postpone any non-essential travel and reschedule for a better day. If you do need to get somewhere, familiarize yourself with the route and let others know your anticipated arrival time. 


We hope you find these winter driving tips useful. If you happen to be involved in a winter car accident, The Law Offices of Daniel Kim is happy to discuss your options with you in a free, no-obligation consultation. Stay safe and happy holidays!