Driving during the winter in Massachusetts comes with several unique challenges and dangers. Drivers must be very alert to stay safe on the roads.
Throughout the cold winter season (from December to mid-March), roads will likely be icy, snowy, wet, slushy, or all of the above. These dangerous road conditions mean car accidents are much more common in the winter. Of all car crashes year-round, about 20% happen in snowy conditions, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
If you were injured in a Massachusetts winter car accident, call or text our office for a free consultation at (617) 889-5000. We will review your case for free, explain your legal options, give you advice, and explain how we can help you recover compensation for your medical bills, injuries, and pain and suffering. If tragedy strikes and a family member or loved one was killed in a winter driving accident, we can also represent you in a wrongful death lawsuit.
10 Serious Winter Driving Hazards: Road Dangers to be Aware of During Massachusetts Winters
Massachusetts is not alone when it comes to risky road conditions in the winter. Nearly three-fourths of the nation experiences roads with snow and ice, which increases the chances of car accidents. About 70% of people in the United States live in places with snowy and icy winter road conditions, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
Snow and ice reduce road friction, increasing the risk of crashes and accidents. Every year, about 40% of weather-related car accidents happen on snowy, slushy, or icy pavement or during snowfall or sleet, according to the FHWA. Car accidents on icy and snowy roads lead to more than 135,000 people getting injured and more than 2,000 people dying each year.
1) Icy Roads
Icy roads cause nearly 160,000 car crashes each year, according to FHWA. In fact, icy roads cause more fatal car accidents each year than all other weather hazards combined. Icy roads cause 3.6 times more total accidents than all other weather hazards combined.
As the weather gets colder, the roads become very slippery with ice. Ice leads to many rear-end collisions in the winter months.
Two significant ice dangers are black ice and ice patches on the roads.
Black Ice is when a thin layer of nearly invisible ice forms on the roads. Black ice makes roads extremely slippery. It is usually transparent and most often forms on roads and paved surfaces. It is very difficult to see black ice while driving.
Black ice forms on the roads when moisture on the street freezes overnight as the temperatures drop below freezing. Even light rain or light snow can lead to the formation of black ice. While black ice can be on roads any time of day, it is especially important to be aware of the possibility of black ice late at night and during your morning commute.
About 90% of people who live in the Northeast have driven on black ice, which means you’re most likely to encounter black ice if you drive in the winter.
Ice Patches on roads result from uneven freezing and thawing of snow and ice. Ice patches are especially common on bridges and in shaded areas. This means you should be especially cautious when driving on and under bridges.
If you begin to skid on an icy road, DO NOT slam on your brakes. Slamming on your brakes will NOT help you regain control of your car, and it will actually cause you to lose control of your vehicle. Engaging anti-lock brakes before driving can help.
2) Snow Build Up on Roads and Your Car
When roads are covered with snow, it reduces your car's traction with the streets and makes driving more hazardous.
The first snowfall of the year is much more dangerous than all other snowfalls, according to the FHWA. This is most likely because people are not used to driving in the winter or have yet to adjust their driving for the winter season.
When it snows, non-fatal injuries and property damage incidents increase significantly, but fatal crashes often decline, according to a FHWA study. Each year since 1995, snow storms have cost the country $1.2 billion.
When you drive on a snowy road, it can take you 10 times longer to bring your car to a complete stop. Snow tires can help you keep control of your car. Unfortunately, only about 40% of people use snow tires in the winter.
Snowfall accumulation on your car is another winter driving risk. Every time before you drive in the winter, make sure your car’s headlights, hood, windshield, and roof are free from snow and ice. This will help ensure snow won’t blow into your windshield or fall forward from the roof and cover your windshield with a heavy layer of snow that your windshield wipers might not be powerful enough to clear.
Cleaning your windshield and roof from snow also helps protect other drivers. We’ve all seen it before - you’re driving down Route 128 on your way to work, and you notice the snow and ice blowing off of the cars in front of you. Completely cleaning your vehicle of snow is essential so you are not one of the drivers allowing snow, ice, and dangerous debris to fly off your car toward other drivers. Starting your vehicle about 10 minutes before removing ice and snow will make your job much easier.
If you’re driving and notice cars with snow still piled high, maintain twice the following distance you usually would. This way, if a large chunk of snow or ice flies off the car in front of you, it will land on the road and won’t fly into your car or windshield. If you see a tractor-trailer or any tall vehicle where you can’t see the car’s roof, don’t travel directly behind it; pass it if you can safely.
3) Cold Temperatures
Massachusetts winters are cold, as you know. Extremely low temperatures can lead to frozen roads and cause parts of your vehicle to function less effectively. The cold weather can significantly affect your brakes and your tires.
The temperature drops can stiffen the rubber of your tires and affect the tire pressure. You must check your tire pressure frequently to ensure they are appropriately filled for winter driving.
4) Reduced Visibility
Many factors contribute to reduced visibility when it comes to winter driving. Two significant factors are snowstorms and fog.
Snow is the most common cause of poor visibility during the winter months in Massachusetts. Heavy snowfall can significantly reduce visibility on the roads as you drive. This is even worse at night when it is dark, or even at specific points in the day with sun glare. Snow can make it hard to see clearly through your windshield and can make it hard to have a good view of the road. Snow can also hide ice build-up on roads.
Colder temperatures can also lead to dense fog forming, limiting your visibility of the road ahead.
Thick fog or a steady snowfall can instantly reduce a driver’s visibility. Heavy snow can slow traffic speeds by more than 60% of the regular speed limit, so be very cautious about your speed and add extra following distance with other vehicles. If you’re driving into an area where snow has just started to fall, the cars in front of you may be driving much slower than you anticipate.
Checking the weather before you drive can be a helpful way to gain awareness of the road conditions. Sometimes, you may learn it’s better to wait to drive if you can, or you at least know when you need to drive with extreme caution.
5) Freezing Rain
Freezing rain is another dangerous but common winter road condition in the Northeast. Freezing rain can turn into ice upon contact with the road, causing ice to build up and creating treacherous road conditions.
Freezing rain affects your visibility and will make the roads icy and slippery. Wet roads cause 74% of all weather-related car accidents. Sleet and snow alone make up 13% of these wet road accidents.
6) Poor Road Conditions
Poor road conditions always increase the chances of a car accident, which is only more true in the winter months.
If a road is not maintained well – such as unfilled potholes hidden under snow or ice, it can increase your chances of an accident.
Other poor road conditions include delayed snow plowing or delayed salting of the roads.
7) Limited Daylight
Boston and all of Massachusetts experience much shorter days in the winter months. For example, the December solstice in Boston has 6 hours and 12 minutes less daylight than the June solstice. On some winter days, it gets dark as soon as 4 pm.
With shorter winter days comes the challenge of driving more often in low-light or dark conditions. Driving in the dark is even more dangerous when combined with falling snow, fresh snowfall, or icy roads.
8) Car Condition and Vehicle Issues
Your vehicle also faces unique winter challenges, leading to more hazardous driving conditions.
Cold temperatures can affect your vehicle's performance, such as battery capacity, tire pressure, and the functionality of various systems.
Winter tires may seem like an extra expense that isn’t worthwhile, but they truly are necessary for safe driving during the winter months. Winter tires are made to handle fluctuating and freezing temperatures better and will give you more traction on the road and help you brake and stop more safely. Winter tires are better than “all-season” tires because they cannot handle freezing rain and slush like winter tires can. While snow tires are expensive, if you put them on before the first snow and remove them after the last snow, they should last you many winter seasons.
Before the winter season fully settles in, there are a few other things you should check (in addition to your tires) on your car to avoid issues:
- Check your windshield wipers. Winter windshield wiper blades are best because they are more heavy-duty and are made for snow and ice removal.
- Test your car’s defroster function.
- Check all your fluid levels, such as antifreeze, coolant, and gas. It’s recommended that you never drive with less than half of a gas tank during the winter in case you get into an accident or get stranded somewhere.
9) Slushy Roads
While similar to icy and snowy conditions, slushy roads are a unique winter hazard.
Melting snow mixed with road salt can create slush, which can be challenging to navigate and may freeze into ice patches. When roads are slushy, people often mistakenly think the roads are safer or perhaps free of ice, but this is not the case.
Slushy pavement can cause a 30-40% reduction in driving speed on major roadways in the winter. When you see slush, it is not a green light to drive as if the roads are safer; it is actually a sign to slow down.
10) Overconfident Driving
In addition to hazardous road conditions, how people drive on the roads during the winter contributes to winter driving risks. Many drivers may underestimate the dangers of winter conditions, leading to speeding and risky behavior.
Two main ways drivers make winter driving even more dangerous are driving while distracted and speeding.
Distracted Driving is a leading cause of car accidents nationwide and only becomes more dangerous in the winter months. Especially in the winter, time is of the essence when it comes to avoiding a crash. Looking at your phone, texting, fumbling with maps, changing the song on Spotify, or scrolling TikTok can have devastating consequences. Even if you are doing all the “right” things, a driver in front of you could spin out of control on the road at any moment.
Speeding is a common cause of all car crashes but is also especially dangerous in the winter. On a speed-related note, you should NOT use cruise control or traction control on icy roads.
Take your time when driving in the winter, especially when taking turns, stopping, and even accelerating. Slippery roads make it difficult to brake, and it is more likely for your car to spin out of control or slide through an intersection or into another vehicle. It can take up to 10 times longer to come to a complete stop when driving on snowy roads (the heavier your car, the longer it will take to stop). Driving slowly and leaving extra space between you and the car in front of you can help avoid a crash.
Massachusetts speed limits are the maximum speeds recommended under ideal road conditions, so consider that when driving in the snow. Winter driving often means driving below the speed limit and adjusting your speed based on the weather and road conditions. The more time you have to ease off the gas, slow down (without slamming on the brakes), and react to the road conditions or a traffic event ahead, the better chance you have of avoiding a crash and not being injured
To lessen the dangers of winter driving, it is important to check the weather forecast, drive carefully, drive at the appropriate speed (which may be far slower than the posted speed limit), keep a safe following distance from other cars, and make sure your vehicle is in good winter driving condition with winter tires.
Reach Out to Our Car Accident and Injury Attorney for a FREE Consultation if You Were Injured in a Boston or Massachusetts Winter Car Crash
Car accidents are always terrifying and can result in serious injuries — especially if you were injured in a winter car accident, as they can happen very quickly and unexpectedly.
Being hurt in a car crash is challenging enough. You have doctor’s visits, possible surgeries, and physical therapy to manage so you can heal.
Thankfully, navigating the legal process and dealing with insurance companies doesn’t have to be complicated or stressful. That’s what we’re here for.
If you or a loved one were injured in a Massachusetts car crash, you have rights and may be able to get compensation for your medical bills, time lost from work, pain and suffering, and more. Our car accident attorneys are here to guide you every step of the way.
Over the last three decades, we’ve helped thousands of people in Massachusetts get the recovery they need after a car accident injury. Recently, Boston Magazine named Attorney Spada one of Boston’s Top Personal Injury Lawyers. As personal injury lawyers, you never pay us a penny until we win your case. We’re here and ready to help.
We have three offices but proudly serve the entire state with the ability to meet with you remotely from the comfort of your own home. Contact us for a free consultation so we can learn more about your winter car accident and injuries and see how we can help you get the recovery you deserve after your injury.