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Last updated: February 17, 2023

Winter Driving Tips and Statistics

Over 70 percent of the U.S. population lives in snowy regions. Are you prepared for winter?

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Winter is upon us, and if you’re part of the 70 percent of the United States population that lives in snowy regions, you need to be prepared for driving in wintry conditions. Snow and ice cause slower speeds that, in turn, clog roadways and delay traffic. Moreover, these weather conditions reduce visibility and increase the risk of crashes, property damage, injuries and deaths. But with some awareness and preparedness, you can avoid becoming a statistic.

Winter Driving Statistics

Every year, on average, nearly a quarter of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on pavement that is either icy, slushy or snowy, killing 1,300 people a year and injuring an estimated 116,800.

Traffic Fatalities by Year

As you can see in the chart below, most fatal crashes aren’t weather-related and occur under normal weather conditions. Fatal crashes during snow/sleet only accounted for 1 percent of all fatal crashes in 2020, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).1

Total fatal crashes in 2020

On the whole, the amount of traffic fatalities that occurred in snow/sleet has decreased by 45 percent from 2010 to 2020. On average per year, there were 496 snow/sleet-related fatal crashes out of 32,615, meaning only 2 percent of all fatal crashes involved snow/sleet. Year over year, there was an average decrease of 3 percent.

Year Total fatal crashes in snow/sleet conditions Total fatal crashes
2010 685 30,296
2011 595 29,867
2012 430 31,006
2013 657 30,202
2014 628 30,056
2015 465 32,538
2016 446 34,748
2017 410 34,560
2018 513 33,919
2019 440 33,487
2020 374 35,766

In 2020, fatal crashes were highest during the summer and fall months, specifically between July and October. This period includes Labor Day accidents, one of the deadliest holidays for driving. The winter months, December through March, had lower fatal crash rates than the rest of the year.

Month Total fatal crashes in 2020 Percentage of total fatal crashes in 2020 Fatal crash rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2020
January 2,485 7% 0.95
February 2,450 7% 1.01
March 2,369 7% 1.05
April 2,127 6% 1.27
May 2,865 8% 1.3
June 3,374 9% 1.35
July 3,483 10% 1.31
August 3,523 10% 1.33
September 3,426 10% 1.33
October 3,522 10% 1.32
November 3,168 9% 1.33
December 2,974 8% 1.23

Still, some states are more dangerous to drive in than others during the winter holidays. Check out our holiday car crash statistics to learn more.

Crash Rates in Wintry Conditions

We analyzed crash data from the NHTSA Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) that included only crashes occurring in weather conditions that involved:

  • Fog
  • Freezing rain or drizzle
  • Hail
  • Sleet
  • Snow, including blowing snow

Not surprisingly, the majority of car accidents that occurred in wintry weather conditions like those above occurred during January and February. From 2010 to 2020, these months accounted for 49 percent of fatalities, 56 percent of injuries and 59 percent of property damage-only wintry car crashes.

Fortunately, the data shows that most crashes during wintry conditions are not fatal. In 2020, for example, 79 percent of wintry crashes involved property damage only, 21 percent involved injuries only and less than 1 percent involved fatalities.

Road Condition Statistics

The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) defines “snow regions” as any area that receives, on average, at least five inches of snowfall a year. Seventy percent of the country’s roads are located in snowy regions and 70 percent of the U.S. population lives in these regions. Here’s how wintry conditions on roads affect our driving, according to the FHA:

  • Snowy/slushy pavement reduces average arterial speeds by 30 to 40 percent.
  • Light snow reduces speeds on freeways by 3 to 13 percent.
  • Heavy snow decreases speeds on freeways by 5 to 40 percent.

From a financial perspective, wintry weather is costly. The U.S. Department of Transportation allocates 20 percent of its maintenance budget to roads with snow/ice while state and local agencies spend more than $2.3 billion annually on snow/ice operations. That doesn’t even take into account infrastructure costs due to snow and ice.2

Winter Driving Safety Tips

Sometimes, there’s no way to avoid driving in bad winter conditions. If you must brave the adverse weather this winter season, remember these tips for driving safely.

Prepare Before You Drive

  1. Check your vehicle: Check your lights, windshield wipers, cooling system, external camera lenses and side mirrors. Make sure you have enough winter wiper fluid rated for negative 30 degrees Fahrenheit plus coolant and clean dirt, snow and ice off your cameras and mirrors.
  2. Stock up: Your car should have a broom, ice scraper and snow shovel packed for snow and ice removal. You should also keep in your car a supply of water, food, medications, cell phone and charger, blankets, jumper cables, flashlights and warning devices. Here’s a pro tip: Keep sand or kitty litter in your vehicle. If you get stuck in the snow, using it on the ground can help you gain traction.
  3. Get powered: Make sure you have enough power to drive, whether you have a gas-powered or electric vehicle (EV). If you have a gas-powered car, make sure it’s half full or more at all times to avoid gas freeze. If you have an EV, charge it overnight to avoid your battery draining, which happens quicker during colder weather.
  4. Plan your route: We’re all overly dependent on Google Maps and GPS, but such technology may not work in bad weather. That’s why it’s important to familiarize yourself in advance with where you’re going. Make sure to check traffic and weather reports before you leave, and if travel isn’t essential, consider delaying it until the roads are cleared. Lastly, let others know your expected arrival time and planned route so others are aware of your whereabouts.
  5. Warm up the car: We recommend turning on your car for a few minutes before you start driving, but don’t leave it running in a garage, as that could cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

Be Aware of Vehicles Changes

The cold weather affects cars differently. Here’s what to expect:

  • Tires: Cold temperatures cause tire pressure to decrease, so check your tires at least once a month and before any long-distance road trips. Ideally, you should check your tires when they’re “cold,” meaning you haven’t driven the car for three hours or more. The tread should be 2/32 of an inch or more on all tires, which should not have any scrapes, bumps, cracks, bulges, punctures or cuts. It’s best practice to replace your tires at least every six years, according to most manufacturers, and you should always carry a spare.
  • Car seats: You want to keep your kid warm, but if they’re too bundled up with thick coats, that could affect their safety, as they may not be able to fit into their car seat’s harness. Rather than bundling children up with thick layers, use thin, warm layers and put blankets and coats on top of the harness. Also, you never want to place a rear-facing infant seat in front of an airbag, and children under 12 are safest in the backseat. And need we mention the importance of seat belts for all?
  • Batteries: The lower the temperature, the more power cars need to run. Gas and diesel engines will require more fuel to start, while electric and hybrid vehicles drain batteries faster. Make sure you’ve gotten your battery, charging system, and/or belts checked before driving.
  • Floor mats: For winter, you may want to replace your existing floor mats with thicker, rubber ones. If mats slide, they could affect your operation of the accelerator or brake pedals, which could cause you to lose control of the vehicle.

Avoid Crashes

  1. Drive slowly: Avoid speeding, as it could cause hydroplaning. Especially on hills, drive slowly to avoid spinning your wheels. Drive the speed limit or slower.
  2. Increase your following distance: Stay anywhere from 8 seconds to 19 seconds behind the car in front of you.
  3. Avoid snow plows: Stay especially far from snowplows and don’t travel behind such trucks.
  4. Don’t use cruise control: Keep manual control of your vehicle.
  5. Skid properly: If you start to skid, steer in the same direction as the skid.
  6. Change speed slowly: Avoid fast accelerations and decelerations.
  7. Make rolling stops: If possible, never come to a complete stop. Instead, come to rolling stops at traffic lights.
  8. Don’t stop uphill: If you can avoid it, don’t stop uphill, as your car may slide backward.
  9. Use built-in safety features: Cars have safety features built in as standard features in new cars. For example, traction control comes standard, helping cars gain traction on wet, icy and snowy surfaces. Antilock braking systems (ABS) are also standard and prevent wheels from locking up. If you feel your wheels starting to lock up and have ABS, simply apply firm, continuous pressure to the brake pedal. But if you don’t have ABS, pump the brakes instead.

Take These Steps in an Emergency

  1. Pull over: If you can’t see the road in front of you, pull over and don’t drive until conditions have improved. But don’t pull over to the road’s shoulder because your vehicle may not be visible to other drivers. If possible, find a parking lot.
  2. Put on your lights: To increase your visibility, turn on your brights and your interior dome light.
  3. Clear your exhaust pipe: Make sure your exhaust pipe is clear of snow, especially if you’re in an enclosed space. Running a car continuously in an enclosed space could cause carbon monoxide poisoning, so be sure to run it sporadically.

Change Plans for Long-Distance Trips

Be especially careful during long-distance trips in snowy or icy conditions:

  1. Leave early: To make sure you don’t have to speed, give yourself more time than necessary to get to your destination.
  2. Change your departure time: Don’t be afraid to change your departure time to avoid a storm’s worst moments.
  3. Plan breaks: Build in time to eat, check your phone so you avoid distracted driving, change drivers and stretch.
  4. Change drivers: If you’re tired, change drivers or rest at a rest stop. Wintry weather combined with drowsy driving only makes crashes more likely.


With the right tools in your car and the right knowledge in your head, you can stay safe while driving, even during the coldest winter months. Of course, it’s always important to avoid distractions, drive sober, drive defensively and be well rested no matter the time of year or the weather. If you’re focused, not under the influence and alert, you can prevent at-fault car accidents.


To compile this report, we used third-party sources, such as:

  • AAA
  • FHA
  • National Safety Council


  1. Crashes. United States Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2023).

  2. Snow and Ice. Road Weather Management Program. (2023).

  3. Be Prepared for Winter Driving. National Safety Council. (2023).

  4. Winter Driving Tips. AAA Exchange. (2023).