Driving in Hazardous Weather

What You Should Know About: Driving in Hazardous Weather

Road conditions can change in an instant. Make sure you’re prepared for potential driving challenges before hitting the road.

What you should know:

  1. 17 percent of all vehicle crashes occur during winter weather conditions, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
  2. Every vehicle handles differently, especially on wet, icy or snowy roads. Take time to learn how your vehicle handles under hazardous driving conditions.
  3. Even the most experienced drivers need to take precautions before a road trip. Safe driving begins before you get on the road with proper preparation and planning.

Driving can be hazardous at certain times of the year, especially during winter when driving conditions can range from normal, dry roads to snow and ice within a few miles. No matter what time of year, however, it’s always a good idea to be prepared for changing road conditions, and to make sure you have the right auto insurance in case you run into trouble (or a guardrail).

Here’s a few tips on how to prepare for hazardous driving conditions:

Auto Insurance Check Up

Make sure you have the right insurance to protect yourself and your finances if you’re involved in an accident. Of course, liability insurance – which pays for injuries or damage your vehicle causes to others – is a required coverage for drivers in nearly every state in the country. But, drivers should also consider:

  • Collision coverage, which pays for damage to your vehicle as a result of your car colliding with another object, regardless of who is at fault. This is an optional coverage available as part of your Auto policy.
  • Comprehensive coverage, which insures your vehicle against losses such as hail, windstorm and collision with wildlife. Both Collision and Comprehensive coverages are subject to policy limits and require a deductible that you select.
  • Personal Injury Protection (PIP, also called “MedPay”), which provides coverage to pay for injuries suffered by you or your passengers in a collision of any sort, regardless of fault. Insurers must offer this coverage in WA, OR and ID, but only in OR is it a required coverage for all drivers.
  • Towing Coverage in case you slide off the road or you’re involved in an accident. Most auto insurance policies do not automatically cover towing, but coverage is usually available for $10 to $20 per year and may include roadside assistance such as charging a battery or fixing a flat tire.

Hazardous Weather Driving Tips

  • Before your trip, know the current road conditions and the forecast for your route and destination. Allow extra time to arrive at your destination.
  • Fully charge your cellphone and make sure to have your phone charger in your car in case you need to phone for help. Always pull over if you need to make a call or send a text.
  • If you’re crossing the mountains, take tire chains or other traction devices.
  • Make sure your wiper fluid reservoir is full and contains anti-freeze so the spray doesn’t freeze on your windshield in cold weather.
  • Keep a snow brush and scraper in your vehicle at all times.
  • More wildlife-vehicle accidents occur between October and December than any other time of the year. Drive with caution when moving through wildlife-crossing zones and rural, wildlife or livestock areas.
  • Keep your gas tank full. Stormy weather or traffic delays may force you to change routes or turn back. Also, a fuller gas tank helps prevent your car’s gas line from freezing.
  • Keep an emergency winter driving kit in your car. The kit should include blankets, water, high-energy snacks, highway warning devices, flares, flashlights and batteries.
  • Be aware of potentially dangerous icy areas such as shady spots, bridges and overpasses. 
  • Stay on main roads as much as possible. Road crews normally clear main roads and highways first. In case of an emergency, you have a better chance of getting help on a main route.
  • In winter weather conditions, avoid over-acceleration, sudden stops and quick direction changes. Do not activate your cruise control when driving on a slippery surface.
  • If you start to slide and do not have anti-lock brakes, pump your brakes gently and steer into the direction of the slide.
  • If you have anti-lock brakes, do not pump your brakes. Instead, press firmly on the brake pedal and hold it down, allowing the anti-lock mechanism to work.
  • Drive with your headlights on low beam when it is snowing. Low beam provides better illumination in snow than high beam.
  • Never crowd a snow plow or travel beside it. The snow cloud that a plow throws can reduce visibility in an instant and conceal oncoming vehicles or other hazards. 
  • If you do get stranded in your car, stay with your car and put bright markers on the antenna or window. If you must run your vehicle, clear the exhaust of any snow and run it sporadically, with windows partway down, and only long enough to stay warm.

Insurance Information Institute
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 
National Weather Service 
Washington State Department of Transportation 
Oregon Department of Transportation 
Idaho Transportation Department

Driving in Hazardous Weather