Safe Driving in All Kinds of Weather

All drivers are challenged by poor weather conditions. Unfortunately, many underestimate the adjustments needed in driving technique when Mother Nature strikes. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, there are over 5,891,000 vehicle crashes each year on the nation’s roads. Approximately 21% of these crashes - nearly 1,235,000 - are weather-related, resulting in nearly 5,000 deaths and over 418,000 injuries annually.

The majority of weather-related crashes occur on wet pavement (70%) and during rainfall (46%). A smaller percentage of these crashes occur during winter conditions: 18% during snow or sleet, 13% on icy pavement and 16% on snowy or slushy pavement, while 3% of weather-related crashes occur in the presence of fog.

While we may not be able to change the weather, it’s important to understand that weather conditions can greatly affect driver capabilities (e.g. visibility, stopping distance); vehicle performance (e.g., traction, stability, maneuverability); pavement friction; roadway infrastructure; traffic flow (e.g., speed, travel time, roadway capacity); and, as a result, can significantly impact accident risk.

In order to help avoid becoming part of the statistics:

Check the Forecast

Check the weather forecast before heading out and frequently along the way as conditions can change often. Other drivers, local radio stations and online tools such Accuweather, the National Weather Service and State Department of Transportation websites can provide invaluable information on the latest weather and road conditions. Importantly, if especially bad weather is in the forecast, consider the risk and need to travel.

Plan Your Route

Map out your destination and have alternate routes planned should any road(s) be closed due to extreme weather conditions. Also, keep in mind that poor weather conditions can result in travel delays, so be sure to allow yourself extra time to reach your destination.

Prepare Your Vehicle

Conduct a thorough pre-trip inspection before every trip as required by federal regulations (see §396.13  Driver inspection). Pay special attention to tires, brakes, the defroster and windshield wipers, and clean windows, mirrors, lights, and reflectors before departing, and along the way as needed for good visibility. Fill the fuel tank before leaving, and stop to fill up long before the tank begins to run low as extra fuel may be needed if you’re forced to change routes due to poor weather conditions.

Carry a Survival Kit

For personal protection, make sure that your vehicle is equipped with a survival kit that contains, at a minimum, a cell phone and charger, a flashlight with batteries, a first aid kit, extra clothing, a blanket, non-perishable food, bottled water, a windshield scraper/brush, lock de-icer, a small shovel, and prescription medications. A lengthy delay in extreme weather conditions will make you glad you are well-prepared.

Remember, the most effective defensive driving techniques in poor weather conditions are to SLOW DOWN and INCREASE YOUR FOLLOWING DISTANCE. When in doubt about the safety of driving in poor weather, consider stopping your vehicle and parking it in a safe place until conditions improve. Drivers that don’t, put others at risk, and could end up causing serious collisions.

For more information on preparing for extreme weather conditions, including hurricanes, snowstorms, severe rain, extreme wind and wildfires), visit our Natural Disaster Preparedness page.