The 7 deadly sins of winter driving

The good news: Bad weather means fewer drivers on the road, and they're going slower than usual. The bad news: It's still dangerous.

By Money Staff Dec 9, 2013 6:38PM

This post comes from Aaron Crowe at partner site on MSN MoneyFatalities actually fall during winter months, researchers at the University of California have found.


Winter Car Accident © Sam Burt Photography/E+/Getty Images
People drive less, and they drive more slowly when they do get behind the wheel. But the number of property-damage-only crashes soars by 45 percent on snowy days compared with dry.


Hitting a dozen cars as you slide down a hill, brake pedal floored the whole way, may not injure you. But it will probably increase your car insurance rates.


Of course, you shouldn't drive too fast and hammer the brakes. Snow, ice and black ice are a quick lesson in how car physics change in freezing weather.


But much of the idiocy bad weather brings to the roads stems from lack of foresight or ignorance of the basics. We asked some experienced hands about beginners' mistakes. Take heed of these hallmarks of future YouTube stars.


1. They don't clear the windshield completely. Eva Lipson of Truckee, Calif., says she has seen visitors to her ski town remove snow from only a small area of their windshields before taking off driving. Driving with a football helmet on would give them a better view. Clear the entire windshield and side and rear windows, and put de-icer in the windshield washer fluid so you can keep it clean as you drive through mud and snow, she recommends. Many snowpocalypse veterans will throw a blanket or tarp over the windshield to make the clearing easier.


2. They don't brush snow off headlights and taillights. Removing snow from windows helps drivers see out, but forgetting the lights doesn't help other drivers see them, says Marc Pitman, a Maine resident who has lived in the Northeast his entire life. "I really honestly don't think people think below the windshield," says Pitman, who too often can't see turn signals or brake lights from snow on cars. Snow from the roof can also cause a problem if it blows onto the windshield of a car behind you.


3. They don't wait for the defogger to work. You've started your car, cleared the snow off and by the time you get in the car to go, you're soaked and your windows steam up. Take the time to let the defrost work so you can see, recommends Lipson. Turning on the air conditioner will speed the process.


4. They drive on the wrong tires. Tires are the only part of your car touching the road -- in effect, they are your car's shoes. Driving in snow on summer-rated tires is like wearing Crocs to run a marathon. No other feature of your car matters as much -- not even all-wheel-drive. If you don't have snow tires, at least make sure you have all-season tires with decent tread depth. (Retailer Tire Rack says even all-seasons lose their effectiveness once tread depth falls below 6/32".) For people who don't drive in the snow often, chains are cheap and effective and are sometimes required in mountainous areas. But make sure you test-fit them when the weather's nice; you don't want to learn on a remote mountain road.


5. They have all-wheel-drive overconfidence. TV ads promote all-wheel-drive systems and electronic stability control as a worry-free ways to drive in the snow, but the overconfidence they instill can let drivers get too cocky and drive too fast in icy conditions. Winter-driving experts advise drivers to ask their tires to do one task at a time: brake, turn, or accelerate.


6. They punch the gas pedal. Whether stuck in the snow or stopped on ice, hitting the gas pedal hard will only lead to digging a deeper hole in the snow, or fishtailing and possibly crashing on ice, says Marilyn Barnicke Belleghem of Ontario. Spinning the wheels won't get a car unstuck, but rocking it back and forth will, she says. Belleghem says she's had to wave off bystanders who try to push her when she rocks her car.


7. They tailgate snowplows. In many places, following a snowplow too close is a traffic violation. The pavement behind a plow may be clear, but the air is thick with a cloud of obscuring snow. Rear-end collisions are frequent -- and usually the snowplow will come out on top. Amy Jardon of Cedar Falls, Iowa, says she has seen snowplows clearing three lanes -- and three drivers tucked right behind them.


Yes, insurance will probably cover you for anything you do (including hitting curbs or getting stuck). And winter conditions can sometimes be grounds for keeping a designation of fault off your driving record.


But even the right insurance coverage doesn't cover the hassle -- or the potential embarrassment -- of neglecting winter basics. Learn how to handle common winter crises in "I had to abandon my car!"


More from


Dec 9, 2013 7:31PM
People continue to use their cruise control on icy roads...a big no-no....
Dec 10, 2013 12:13AM
I live in salt lake city Utah now. I retired the Army here. First Army says no phones or texting driving. I see so many people more women every day on the phones or texting with little kids in the car. Now its snowing I was on I15 the other day at a stand still I was in lane 3 a woman was on her phone sitting right next to me in lane 2 I saw her on her phone so now we just picked up the speed to about 10 miles an hr and behold she was texting slamed into the car in front of her. She had no care for anyone. But I see so many phones into play. We need to ban all cell phones and texting in cars no hands free either. People just don't care anymore
Dec 10, 2013 10:56AM

Screw it. Just stay home. It doesn't matter what precautions you take. The road is full of idiots that didn't take any, that are just waiting to smash into you.


... Ok, you can't stay home. That's kinda unrealistic. But do your best to avoid driving when there is heavy traffic. You can't control the idiots out there, but minimizing the number that you have to interact with is a good idea.

Dec 10, 2013 12:17PM

Rules I go by as truck for myself and my Wife that she follows in her car aswell as I do in Semi and car.  For Winter


2.  Pay attention and give double triple space needed to stop.

3.  Bring Blankets some Cheese that don't need refergerated  some Water and some Hand warmers pockets so you can unfreeze the water if it freezes.

4. Emergency Flares Flare gun  and batteries.


Dec 10, 2013 11:10AM
One thing they totally missed in this article. People drive WAY TOO FAST for the conditions. Ask any State Trooper and they will say the same thing. People need to slow down when it is icy and slick - it never fails to astonish me how fast people are willing to go on slick roads.
Dec 10, 2013 11:21AM
The biggest single problem when driving in ice or snow is speed.  Impatient drivers usually wind up in an accident.  Unfortunately the accident may impact others.
Dec 10, 2013 12:57PM
How about completely cleaning all snow off your car? It is quite dangerous when you following someone who failed to clean their roof, and snow/ice comes flying at your windshield
Dec 10, 2013 12:21AM

I drive in the winter only to go to work or grocery shopping,but generally I avoid driving in winters.

Dec 10, 2013 1:19PM
Worked as a bus driver and had a chance to drive a real plow,not the clearing parking lots kind but the kind used on interstates. Holy *^&^$! Visability is awful from behind the wheel of those plows, and behind the plow, from the driver's view, is one big blind spot. Stay clear, give them room :)
Dec 9, 2013 11:20PM
Old Man Winter finally arrived yesterday! It was snow all the way on I-83 from York, PA to the Baltimore beltway. The mist and fog was bad on some stretches. Yet, I see many drivers drive without their lights on. It is like they do not care about their safety, or for that matter, the safety of others. We know the law requires that the lights be turned on whenever the wipers are in use. What do you know, there are still a whole lot of scoff-laws in these parts. What are we to expect when most who commute from Pennsylvania to Maryland on I-83 do not obey the posted speed limit. It is no wonder there has been quite a few chain reaction crashes of late! The stupid and foolhardy do get their just dues. 
Dec 10, 2013 8:46AM
The greatest cause of accidents is DWHUA
Dec 10, 2013 2:10PM
Being in Montana and driving with a Prius I agree with a lot of these, especially other people driving with AWD overconfidence (my personal pet peeve).  There are a lot of people who think because they have 4WD or AWD that they are in complete control and will be able to stop as fast as if it were dry, and they can't.  AWD and 4WD are great for extra traction and getting through deep snow but it does not give a car the ability to drive on snow as if it were dry pavement. 

Dec 10, 2013 11:24AM
On the first good snow, I like to go out to the shopping center parking lot and practice my "drifting" skills.
Dec 10, 2013 1:27PM
If you saw the 40 car pile up in Wisconsin you have to know its just dumb if you get out there with all the non drivers. There were cars hitting the pile of cars at 80 mph.  WTF 
Dec 10, 2013 8:27AM

Lights and snow plows. Winter driving in Iowa during s snow and wind event is always a challenge.

The Iowa DOT doesn't skimp on lighting their plows for highway visibility, however during a heavy snow and wind event even their lights can become snow covered and hard to see as they plow the highways.

Once, if I hadn't noticed a change in the blowing snow pattern I would have rear ended a snow plow. My good fortune was that simply letting off on the gas to figure out the new snow pattern was enough to avoid the collision.

Dec 10, 2013 1:35PM

It would be nice if people made sure that their lights actually worked.  I was behind a lady last year, she had one brake light working on the left side.  She kept on hitting and letting off her brakes, it looked like she was going to turn....  Nope... not sure what she was signaling.

Of course if people used their turn signals, and maybe turned their lights on...

Keep a little bit more distance..  Heck better yet just stay home if you do not like driving in the snow...

Dec 10, 2013 12:54PM

they  drive on  snowy/icey  roads  with  cruise  control  on.

and  acoording  to  a  tow  vehicle  guy  I  know  they   have  tires   that  are   way  too  worn  to  be  driving  on  winter  roads...     tires   tires   tires  people  put  new  tires  on your  vehicle  BEFORE  winter

Dec 10, 2013 2:24PM
All wheel drive and 4WD is great to get you moving but some of those people really don't understand the full driving experience with those vehicles. For example, I learned to drive in the snow/ice/rain in cars that were RWD only. Even could drive Camaros and Firebirds in the snow. I didn't like it but I could if I had to. A few times as I was driving on snow and ice covered roads I was passed by a 4WD vehicle going 45-60 mph. I would stop to help others that slid off the road and so would the 4 wheelers and they always bragged about the 4WD. Later on down the road they would pass me again. Eventually I would see the 4WDs off the road and stuck in the median. I stopped to ask what happened and they said they tried to slow down and slid off the road. Well here is a big clue... all vehicles only have 4 wheel braking. Even ABS brakes can only do so much to stop you and it cannot overcome road conditions AND poor driving habits. And here I was driving a Firebird, one of the most notorious low traction vehicles on the market and no ABS, and it got me to my destination. It took a while but it got me there.
Dec 10, 2013 2:41PM
Don't forget the idiots who TAILGATE in a snow/ice storm.  Those are my favorite!!

Lose control of your vehicle, pay the price.  We are in the middle of a lawsuit because some teenage puke was doing 60 on road conditions any normal person would have been doing 30, crossed the center line and head-oned my son.  Broken bones for my son, and 300K lawsuit for the teenage puke.  Have fun trying to get insurance puke-boy.

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