The Golden Rules for Safe Winter Driving in New York

November 21, 2019

There's good news and bad news for weather-conscious drivers in New York this winter.

According to the Old Farmer's Almanac, which has been forecasting the state's weather since around 1792, winter temperatures are going to be "much above normal", while snowfall will be below normal.

On the other hand, there's going to be more rain about, plus some severe cold snaps at the end of January and early February.

Much as we don't wish to challenge such an august body of forecasters, we all know that the weather can throw a few surprise bad pitches at almost any time.

Across the nation, there are more than half a million road crashes and 2,000 fatalities every winter.

So, although winter doesn’t officially start until December 21, now is the time to be thinking about safe winter driving. In fact, now is the best time to do that, so you're prepared for whatever Nature has to throw at you.

Here's our list of the most important actions you can take to stay safe on our highways through the winter.

Prepare Your Car

  • Run through a checklist of your car's winter readiness. That includes checking lights, brakes, tires, battery, wipers, coolant, anti-freeze, defrosters, heater. Checking lights doesn’t just mean ensuring they work; you should clean your headlights before every trip. Same goes for windows, your external mirrors and rear camera if you have one.
  • If you have any doubts at all about your car's road worthiness, have it properly checked by a qualified engineer.
  • Do you need to switch to winter tires? That depends on where you plan to drive, and how much. All-season tires may be suitable for local runs but experts say they can take up to 40 percent longer to stop in severe weather.
  • After driving in particularly bad snow and ice, check that your muffler exhaust pipe isn't blocked.
  • Check your car's manual for any specific instructions about winter driving. This is especially important if you have an electric vehicle. For example, most EV manufacturers recommend pre-heating the inside of the car before you unplug.

Protect Yourself

    • Take extra clothing and other emergency supplies on your journey. Always take your phone, making sure it's fully charged, plus a flashlight, jumper cables, emergency warning signs -- and some kitty litter to give you traction.
    • Don't warm up your car in the garage or other enclosed space. It can lead to breathing difficulties.
    • Always check the weather forecast and road reports before starting out on a journey, especially a long one. Plan your route in advance. If the outlook is bad and your journey is unnecessary, don't go. If it is vital, then set off early.

  • Check in with New York's 511NY service, which provides access to 1,000 live traffic cameras and a roadmap of roadworks and blockages. Call 511, visit or download the mobile app for iOS or Android.
  • If you're heading for an unusual destination, ensure people know where you're going and when you plan to arrive.
  • If you get stuck in snow, stay with your vehicle says AAA. "Your vehicle provides temporary shelter and makes it easier for rescuers to locate you. Do not try to walk in a severe storm. It is easy to lose sight of your vehicle in blowing snow and become lost."
  • If you're not familiar with a car -- for example if it's new or a rental -- get to know it properly by reading the manual and running the tests mentioned above.
  • Don't drive if you're tired or if you’ve consumed intoxicants.

Drive Defensively

  • Unfortunately, you can't count on others to be as careful and courteous as you. Be on the alert for them and allow extra space between your car and the vehicle in front. While the normal following distance is about four seconds, you should at least double that number in bad weather.
  • When road conditions are bad and traffic slows, people are apt to get impatient and intolerant. Don’t be one of those people. Impatience leads to mistakes. And road-rage leads to the courtroom.
  • Mornings and afternoons are darker, but there'll be almost as many pedestrians as normal out and about. And they won’t all be wearing bright, easy-to-spot clothing. Keep your eyes peeled, especially near schools, parks and other public places.
  • It's a good idea to keep your car fueled up -- with at least half a tank at all times -- so you don’t run out of gas if you're stuck in your for an extended time.
  • Know how to drive out of a skid. How you react depends on whether you have front or rear wheel drive. With a front-wheel skid, take your foot off the gas and apply the brakes gently. With a rear-wheel incident, steer in the direction of the skid, and accelerate ever-so-slightly.
  • When driving uphill on an icy road, don’t hit the gas too hard. That will just make the wheels spin. On the other hand, don’t stop on a hill unless it's unavoidable.
  • Respect snowplows! Last winter, they plowed 13 million miles of road in our state. They're doing a vital job, so don’t drive too close -- your car might be damaged by the grit. Overtake only with extreme caution and if the passing road surface is suitable to drive on, which often it is not.
  • Don’t use cruise control in hostile weather. You might not be able to react fast enough to a sudden hazard.
  • In poor visibility and heavy rain, slow down and, if necessary, stop and park safely.

Just in Case

There are more road accidents in New York during the winter months than at any other time of the year, especially around the Holidays.

Even if you practice the safest driving techniques, that doesn't guarantee you won’t get snarled either by impossibly icy conditions or the mistakes of others.

Even if an accident isn’t your fault, the other driver may not have adequate insurance. 

But you can protect yourself against the risks we face on our wintry roads with a good auto insurance policy. Why not get in touch to discuss your needs?

Drive carefully and have a safe winter on our roads.