Although it's not the season with the most accidents — just 17% of car accidents occurred during the winter of 2021 — cold weather presents the most challenges. Driving conditions change constantly, and even with good vehicle preparation, it's important to know how winter weather can affect your driving experience.
Here are some common problems you might encounter during the winter, along with ways to minimize their impact on your driving experience.
The 6 Top Problems You Might Encounter in Winter
1. Black Ice
One of the biggest winter safety driving challenges is black ice. It can be especially hazardous on overpasses and elevated highways, which freeze first. Because black ice forms in such a thin layer, it is difficult to see, especially at night. Your best bet is to reduce speed. If you find yourself slipping, do not panic. Instead, apply steady brake pressure and steer in the same direction your car is moving.
Whiteouts occur when the snow blows horizontally around your car, making it difficult to see the road ahead. One of the biggest dangers of driving in any low-visibility situation is a multi-car pileup. When you're on the road in near whiteout conditions, slow down and keep a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front of you, using it as a point of reference. If the storm becomes so bad you can't see anything, pull over and wait until visibility increases.
3. Snow Squalls
We often forget that snow is just frozen precipitation. Heavy squalls can occur suddenly, the same as downpours. This is especially true if you are driving in the mountains, where elevation and weather conditions are constantly changing. Pay close attention to weather reports and consider grabbing a coffee to wait out a squall that develops on the road ahead.
4. Tidal Surges
Tidal surges occur for a variety of reasons: the right astronomical conditions, extreme low pressure, and the high winds associated with a large storm system. What makes a winter tidal surge dangerous is ice lurking on the road beneath the rising seawater and, of course, the risk that your vehicle might be swept away. Always avoid driving close to the ocean during winter storms, and turn your vehicle around if you see a storm surge ahead.
5. Standing Water
As any New Englander will tell you, slush is winter's biggest nuisance. It occurs both when ice melts during the daytime and when rain falls on an existing snowscape. Slush can be deceptively deep, and because it is not fully liquid, it can cause your car to hydroplane and skid. Slow down when you see slushy water on the road, especially if you are driving on a secondary road with heavy traffic.
6. Sub-Zero Temperatures
Very cold weather can wreak havoc on your car's battery, especially if it is in a weakened state. That's why so many people are unable to start their cars on cold winter mornings. The good news: Unless your battery is really compromised, you can still jump start it back to life. Just make sure to let the car run for about 20 minutes before driving, so your battery is able to recharge.
Are You Ready for this Winter's Driving Challenges?
If it's been a while since you lived in a place with polar temps and snowfall, you may want to review the rules of the road with one of our online adult driver's ed courses. You can get your car ready for winter weather, but it's also a good idea to prepare yourself. After all, confidence is one of the most important parts of being a safe driver.