Winter in Minnesota can put a damper on driving conditions, especially when snow and ice are involved. Hazardous storms and inclement weather are a factor in more than half a million crashes and more than 2,000 road deaths every winter in the U.S., according to research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. AAA urges drivers to slow down, be cautious and prepare their vehicles for the winter season.
“Driving in winter conditions can be challenging,” says Chris Claeson, Manager of Driving Programs at AAA Minneapolis. “Black ice, heavy snowfall, roads that have not been cleared of snow and other bad driving conditions can make it more difficult for drivers to control their vehicle and avoid a crash.”
Stay safe on the road in cold, snowy and icy conditions. AAA provides tips and services to make sure you and your vehicle are winter-ready.
You can also visit the AAA YouTube channel to watch videos on winter driving tips.
- Carry an emergency kit equipped for winter weather.
The kit should include sand or kitty litter, a small shovel, flashlight, an ice scraper or snow brush, booster cables, a blanket, gloves or mittens and flares or reflective triangles.
- Always keep your gas tank ¼ full.
This is important for safety reasons. If you get stranded, you want to be able to keep your car running to stay warm.
- Wash and wax your vehicle to help prevent rust damage, which costs drivers approximately $3 billion every year.
- Replace worn windshield-wiper blades.
Consider getting beam-type or rubber-clad “winter” blades to help fight snow and ice buildup.
- Inspect your tires.
Make sure tires have adequate tread depth – at least 4/32” – as worn tires can affect a driver’s ability to stop in slick conditions.
- Have your battery tested.
A AAA survey found that two-thirds of American drivers have never proactively had their car battery tested. If a battery is more than three years old have it checked by a professional to ensure it is strong enough to endure cold weather. AAA’s Mobile Battery Service offers free battery testing for AAA members.
- Do not tailgate.
Normal following distances of three to four seconds on dry pavement should be extended to a minimum of five to six seconds when driving on slippery surfaces. The extra time will provide additional braking room should a sudden stop become necessary.
- Never use cruise control on slippery roads.
If your vehicle hydroplanes or skids, you will lose the ability to regain some traction simply by lifting off the accelerator.
- Slow down and adjust your speed to the road conditions.
Leave yourself ample room to stop. Accelerate, turn and brake as gradually and smoothly as you can.
- Don’t slam on the brakes.
If your car begins to skid, continue to steer in the direction you want the car to go. Slamming on the brakes will only make your vehicle harder to control.
- Use extreme caution on bridges and overpasses.
Black ice typically forms first in shaded areas of the roadway and on bridges and overpasses that freeze first and melt last. Although the road leading up to a bridge may be fine, the bridge itself could be a sheet of ice.
- React quickly.
Watch the traffic ahead and slow down immediately at the sight of brake lights, skidding cars or emergency flashers.
- Completely brush snow and scrape ice off of your vehicle, so that it doesn’t fly off when you’re on the road. Flying snow and ice chunks are dangerous for both your field of vision and others’.
- Watch weather reports prior to a long-distance drive or before driving in isolated areas.
Delay trips when especially bad weather is expected. If you must leave, let others know your route, destination and estimated time of arrival.
- Always make sure your vehicle is in peak operating condition by having it inspected by a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility.
- Keep at least half a tank of gasoline in your vehicle at all times.
- Pack a cellular telephone with your local AAA’s telephone number, plus blankets, gloves, hats, food, water and any needed medication in your vehicle.
- If you become snow-bound, stay with your vehicle.
It provides temporary shelter and makes it easier for rescuers to locate you. Don’t try to walk in a severe storm. It’s easy to lose sight of your vehicle in blowing snow and become lost.
- Don’t over exert yourself if you try to push or dig your vehicle out of the snow.
- Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna
Or place a cloth at the top of a rolled-up window to signal distress. At night, keep the dome light on if possible. It only uses a small amount of electricity and will make it easier for rescuers to find you.
- Make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t clogged with snow, ice or mud.
A blocked exhaust could cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to leak into the passenger compartment with the engine running.
- Use whatever is available to insulate your body from the cold.
This could include floor mats, newspapers or paper maps.
- If possible, run the engine and heater just long enough to remove the chill and to conserve gasoline.
- Accelerate and decelerate slowly.
Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Don’t try to get moving in a hurry, and take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on icy roads.
- Drive slowly.
Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping, turning – nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly. This increased margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.
- Know your brakes.
Whether you have antilock brakes or not, the best way to stop is threshold breaking. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.
- Don’t stop if you can avoid it.
There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it.
- Don’t power up hills.
Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed downhill as slowly as possible.
- Don’t stop going up a hill.
There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.
- Stay home.
If you really don’t have to go out, don’t. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can. Don’t tempt fate: If you don’t have somewhere you have to be, watch the snow from indoors.
“If you have no choice but to venture out into ice and snow, remember to pack an emergency kit and drive slowly. However, if you really don’t have to go out, stay home. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can.”
-Chris Claeson, Manager of Driving Programs at AAA Minneapolis