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Driving safely in winter: A 3-step checklist

January 29, 2024

Driving safely in winter weather

When your daily business operations depend on company vehicles, driving safely is a must. Add in winter weather, and it can become a challenge. As the winter season rolls on, a gentle yet stern reminder certainly doesn’t hurt: Winter driving can be deadly. Make sure your vehicles are fit for the remaining weeks of winter, and review best practices for winter driving with your employees.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, 21 percent of all vehicle crashes, on average – more than 1.2 million – are weather related. Of those weather-related vehicle crashes, 18 percent occur during snow or sleet, 13 percent occur on icy pavement, and 16 percent take place on snowy or slushy pavement.

Follow this three-step checklist to prepare your employees and your vehicles for driving safely in winter weather conditions.

1) Prepare your vehicle for cold weather

According to tips from the U.S. Department of Transportation, driving safely in winter begins before your company vehicles even get on the road. Especially in the winter when the temperature tends to drop, pay extra attention to batteries, wipers, coolant, and tires. The Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reminds you to have these items in your vehicles: 

  • A snow shovel, broom, and ice scraper
  • Abrasive material (sand or kitty litter), in case your vehicle gets stuck in the snow
  • Jumper cables, flashlight, and warning devices (flares and emergency markers)
  • Blankets for protection from the cold
  • Keep your fuel tank at least half full
  • A cell phone and charger, water, food, and any necessary medicine.

2) Ready your drivers and yourself

The most important word for winter driving is SLOW. Since sudden braking on slick or snow-covered roads can cause your vehicle to slide and even spin, increase your following distance to eight to 10 seconds. Watch for snow plows, and stay at least 200 feet behind them.

The National Safety Council and AAA offer the following tips for winter driving:

  • Do not use cruise control in wintry conditions
  • Steer in the direction of a skid, so when your wheels regain traction, you don’t have to overcorrect to stay in your lane
  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly
  • If possible, don’t stop when going uphill

A whiteout can severely limit visibility. In a whiteout, pull off the road to a safe spot (not the shoulder) as soon as possible and wait until conditions improve. Remember that other vehicles and drivers will have trouble seeing you. As such, don’t pull off onto the shoulder unless absolutely necessary. 

And remember to take it slow: Know the weather and traffic conditions, plan the safest route, and give yourself more time to get where you’re going.

3) Know what to do in an emergency

Winter weather and driving conditions can change and deteriorate quickly. If you find yourself stuck in a whiteout, snowstorm, or snowbank, remember these important guidelines:

  • Stay in the vehicle; this bears repeating: stay in the vehicle!
    • If you leave your vehicle, you can become disoriented quickly in wind-driven snow and cold temperatures
  • Run the motor about 10 minutes each hour for heat
  • While running the motor, open the window a little for fresh air to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Clear snow from the exhaust pipe to avoid gas poisoning

While winter driving can be challenging, this checklist and tips can help ensure you have safe travels throughout the remaining winter season.

WEX speaks the language of small business operators. Whether you’re looking to modernize your insight and reporting efforts, save on fuel costs or take advantage of the latest GPS tracking technologies, WEX offers solutions to simplify the business of running a business. To learn more about WEX, a dynamic and nimble global organization, please visit our About WEX page.

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U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
National Safety Council
National Weather Service

Editorial note: This article was originally published on November 26, 2018, and has been updated for this publication.

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