How safe is driving in the winter? |

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Winter driving statistics

Wintry December weather leads to more fatal car accidents than any other month.

black ice on road during winter

Although summer has more fatal crashes overall, the winter months from November through February see the most car crashes caused by weather conditions. However, you might be surprised: Snow and black ice aren’t the weather conditions that pose the most danger.

How does driving in winter compare to driving in summer?

It’s easy to think that slick wintry roads lead to more car accidents than summer fair-weather driving. But surprisingly, you’re more likely to get into a serious accident in the summer.

Car crash fatalities total around 3,000 starting from May through October, according to 2018 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That’s likely because summertime sees more drivers on the road, including vacationers, teens and college students.

On the other hand, crashes caused by weather conditions spike in the wintertime. Common factors to look out for:

  • Hidden potholes
  • Freezing temperatures
  • Blowing snow or unplowed roads
  • Sunlight glare from snow
  • Black ice
  • Bridges or roads near bodies of water
  • Tractor-trailers skidding or reducing visibility

When’s the worst time to drive during winter?

If you want to avoid the worst driving weather, cozy up at home during December. This month accounts for nearly 1,000 fatal weather-related crashes, as shown by the NHTSA. November rides its bumper at 950 crashes, then February at 850 and January at 770.

The weekend typically sees more accidents than most weekdays. Saturday leads with over 1,400 fatal accidents, and Friday comes next with over 1,300 accidents.

Worst months for weather-related car crashes

Worst days for weather-related crashes

How many car accidents are caused by snow and ice?

Over 116,000 people suffer injuries from car accidents caused by snow, slush or sleet each year, says the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. Another 1,300 people are killed annually in the same conditions. Since 70% of Americans live in snow-laden areas, these fatalities could serve as warning signs for many people navigating freezing or snowy weather.

Winter car crash stats

Despite snow and ice coming to mind first for dangerous driving conditions, snow falls a little lower on the list. Cloudy weather takes the top spot with 5,000 fatal car crashes throughout the year, according to the 2018 NHTSA data. Rain comes next at 2,800 crashes, followed by snow at slightly under 400 crashes.

Keep in mind that the NHTSA information involves car crashes, while the Department of Transportation numbers above use the number of people killed or injured. Over 30% of all fatal crashes in November, December and February involve inclement weather conditions like sleet, hail and fog.

Fatal car crashes caused by weather conditions

Fog, smog, smoke43592591817152325364549364
Sleet and hail2069711000111864
Severe crosswinds3412124132423353
Blowing snow95320000014832
Freezing rain or drizzle311220001012325
Blowing sand, soil or dirt03010110103010

Top 5 causes for winter car crash fatalities

Which cities have the worst winter roads?

The cities that plowed onto the worst winter roads list are major cities like Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., according to the 2018 data report from NHTSA. This suggests that squeezing many drivers on icy or snowy roads leads to more traffic accidents. The city’s ability to respond to weather conditions could play a role as well.

The West

These major Western hubs aren’t the safest places to drive in winter:

  • Los Angeles
  • San Diego
  • San Francisco
  • Phoenix
  • San Jose

The Midwest

Patch together highly populated cities and precarious winter weather including deep snows in some of these cities and you have the worst Midwest winter roads:

  • Chicago
  • Indianapolis
  • Detroit
  • Little Rock
  • Minneapolis

The East Coast

Several Eastern cities are steeped in snowy weather with many drivers on the roads, such as:

  • Boston
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Baltimore
  • New Haven
  • Worcester

The South

Since most Southern states have little to no snowfall, roads packed with drivers or freezing weather could be the main cause for many car accidents. A little snow in any of these likely unprepared cities can end up shutting them down:

  • Atlanta
  • Orlando
  • Birmingham
  • Ft Lauderdale
  • Tampa

Cities with the most weather-related car crashes

What is black ice — and why is it so dangerous?

Black ice is a thin glaze of ice that forms over the road during freezing or near-freezing temperatures. Although clear, drivers call it black ice because the ice looks the same as the asphalt beneath.

This ice proves dangerous for several reasons:

  • It’s hard to spot on the road.
  • It can form before the weather reaches freezing temperatures.
  • It can catch you off guard, leading to an unsafe reaction.
  • It can cause you to slide, skid or otherwise lose control of your car.

Black ice can form anywhere, but you should watch out for bridges or driving on or under overpasses. Also, watch for shaded areas like tree lines and patches that look shiny or glossy.

How to safely drive in the winter

Stay safe on the roads despite frigid temperatures by preparing your car ahead of time and practicing safe habits:

  • Get a maintenance checkup. Before the weather turns frigid, schedule a checkup with your mechanic to keep your car in peak working condition. Top up fluids and check your tire tread too.
  • Slow down. Slower speeds help you keep control of your car even when the weather takes you by surprise.
  • Steer and brake gently. Make gentle, calculated moves a new driving habit.
  • Keep your distance. Increase the distance between you and another car during inclement weather to avoid a collision.
  • Turn off cruise control. You need manual control to navigate around icy or snowy roads.
  • Pack an emergency kit. Keep supplies on hand like a first-aid kit, warm blankets, extra food, a flashlight and a brightly colored flag or clothing to notify others you’re in trouble.
  • Know carbon monoxide safety. Don’t warm up your car inside the garage to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Also, clear your exhaust pipe before running your car in short spurts if you get stuck in snow.
  • Review your car insurance policy. Does your coverage protect you from cracked windshields, winter collisions and more? Consider finding the best car insurance coverage to get peace of mind.
  • Stay calm on ice. If you hit black ice, take your foot off the accelerator rather than braking. Handle your steering and accelerating gently while pointing the car in the direction you want to go. If you can’t avoid braking, tap the brakes gently for nonemergencies or if you don’t have antilock brakes. If you need to brake quickly, apply firm and steady pressure to engage your antilock system.

    How did we find these winter driving stats?

    To dig up this winter driving data, we used the NHTSA’s Fatality and Injury Reporting System Tool. We filtered the data for fatal vehicle crashes in 2018 by state with all weather conditions. For data by city, we combined county data for every city in the US.

    In addition, we compared information from the Road Weather Management Program by the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. The information involved the number of people injured or killed in car accidents caused by snow, slush or sleet. It was last updated in February 2017.

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