A Storm is Brewing: Bad Weather Driving Tips

Just ten days ago, Punxsutawney Phil neglected to see his shadow and predicted an early spring. Days later, unseasonably warm temperatures permeated throughout the country, hot on the heels of the late January polar vortex weather pattern that caused near-record lows across the U.S. Can we count on Phil to bring spring soon? Perhaps, but more likely, our bouncing temperatures are indicative of a typically raucous late-winter season.

While weather does generally calm after January, we aren’t in the clear yet – half of winter still remains ahead of us and February and March tend to bring surprises. In fact, five of the top 12 worst blizzards in U.S. history took place late in the season. Here in Boston, February has played host to five of our top 10 biggest snowfalls – and we expect significant snow this afternoon.

Across the country, as temperatures fluctuate unpredictably, drivers must stay vigilant as accident risks remain high. According to the U.S. DOT Federal Highway Administration, approximately 21 percent of crashes (over 1.25 million) a year are weather-related. Nearly a third (29%) take place on icy, snowy or slushy pavement and 18% occur during snow or sleet.

The best advice for driving in bad winter weather is not to drive at all, if it can be avoided. If not, the following tips will help drivers navigate more safely when conditions worsen so they can get through the rest of winter (and likely early spring) accident free:

  • Get a Fill-Up: Always keep the tank at least half full to avoid a fuel line freeze up that could leave you stranded.
  • Check Wipers and Washer Fluid: Wiper blades have likely been working overtime. Check to make sure they’re still functional and replace blades that do not clear the windshield in a single swipe without streaking. Be sure to also refill the windshield washer reservoir with all-weather fluid to prevent freeze up.
  • Remain Vigilant About Black Ice: Keep watch for patches of black ice, which can form when temperatures drop quickly.  
  • Go Slow on Exit Ramps: As snow builds, highway entry and exit ramps may have received less anti-icing material than the main roads. Be aware of this and slow down when exiting the highway.
  • Be Informed: Many states participate in the national 511 Traffic System, which provides real-time traffic information on the go, such as road closures, detours, weather alerts and more.
  • Plan Ahead: Decrease the potential for distracted driving by contacting friends and family and determining driving route before leaving. In a recent study of 270 million trips totaling 3 billion driving miles, we found the top 10 percent of drivers who talk the most on their phones are two times more likely to crash than the bottom 10 percent, and the top 10 percent of drivers that manipulate their phones (such as sending texts or emails) are five times more likely to crash than the bottom 10 percent.
  • Know Who to Call for Help: Check current roadside assistance coverage through insurance or car warranty to know who to call and how.

The simplest and perhaps the most important thing of all – slow down!