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Winter and Disaster Prep

“READ” the Road for Safe Winter Driving


Make sure your vehicle is road-ready for the colder months with these tips from AAA.

William E. Van Tassel, Ph.D.

Manager of Driver Training Programs, AAA National Office

Before you head out on the roads this winter, consider alternative routes or other ways to your destination to avoid driving in snow or ice. However, you can start preparing for safe winter driving now. Here are some tips to help you ensure that your vehicle is road-ready for the colder months.

It is important to ensure the tires of your vehicle are properly inflated with plenty of tread. Grab a quarter and use it to test the depth on your tire tread. Flip the quarter upside down, and insert it into the tire tread. If you see the top of Washington’s head, it may be time for new tires. For a full vehicle inspection, head over to to find a repair shop near you.

Next, equip your vehicle with a winter emergency kit for unforeseen conditions or circumstances. Some examples might include extra food and water, warm clothing, a flashlight, an ice scraper, traction aids, and a first aid kit.

Once you are out on the road, you shouldREAD the road, applying AAA’s four principles of safe driving. 

R: Right speed for right now

To have enough traction on roads covered with ice and snow, you’ll need to reduce your speed. Although the local speed limit might be 55 MPH, the maximum safe speed might be 35 MPH or even lower. The key is to choose the right speed for the right conditions in which you are currently driving. Driving even one MPH faster than the speed limit could simply be too fast and can be dangerous. 

E: Eyes up, brain on

By looking far ahead, you can identify potential hazards as early as possible. This means you will have more time to respond with the best option, rather than having to react at the last second. For example, if you see a multi-car pileup ahead, you will have a much better chance of avoiding becoming part of it. Keep your brain focused on driving — put that phone on silentmode, especially when driving in winter conditions.

A: Anticipate their next move

Though you might be doing everything right when driving in winter conditions, other drivers may not see you. To prevent trouble before it starts, proactively change your speed or position on the road to put more space between you and that nearby driver, bicyclist, pedestrian, or other road user.

D: Donut

Imagine a big donut of space around your vehicle. By steering and adjusting your speed, you can open up space on at least one side of your vehicle and give yourself plenty of space ahead. In clear, dry conditions, it is best to maintain a minimum following time of three to four seconds between you and the vehicle ahead. In winter conditions, you should extend that time to five or six seconds, or longer. If someone “takes a bite” of your donut by moving into your space, “re-bake” it by adjusting your speed or changing direction, so you can re-establish your cushion. Space is your best friend on the road, and having enough of it will decrease the chances of your vehicle getting hit on slippery winter roads. 

Additional road safety

Here are two more tips that you will find valuable when driving in winter conditions. First, make an extra effort to communicate with other road users. Be as visible as you can, and communicate your next moves to them so they won’t be caught off guard. This can also include tapping your brakes several times to alert drivers behind you that you are about to slow down, lessening the chance that they will rear-end your car.

Second, use your vehicle’s safety technologies safely and effectively. Doing so means knowing what technologies are installed on your vehicle and knowing how they work and their limitations. It also means not over-relying on technology. A safe approach is to drive as safely and attentively as you would if you did not have these technologies, and let them back you up if something goes wrong.

Just remember — whatever the weather, your best bet is to READ the Road.

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