Winter driving in Massachusetts is challenging due to difficult weather conditions such as snow, ice, and reduced visibility. Staying safe on the roads during the winter involves being cautious and avoiding common winter driving mistakes.
Generally speaking, it’s important not to be overconfident in your driving skills, no matter how many winter seasons you have experience driving in. Just because you’re familiar with winter driving does not mean accidents are any less likely, as most car accidents are due to changing road conditions. Even the most experienced drivers can have unexpected challenges.
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 is killed in a winter driving accident, we can also represent you in a wrongful death lawsuit.
The Top 13 Winter Driving Mistakes to Avoid in Massachusetts
To stay safe while driving in Massachusetts’ winters, there are some things you must NOT do. Avoiding common winter driving mistakes can prevent car accidents and injuries.
Always prioritize caution, patience, and preparedness when driving in the winter. Icy roads alone lead to more than 150,000 car crashes each year, according to federal data collected by the Federal Highway Association (FHWA). The bad winter weather, storms, and wet roads combined leads to about 500,000 car accidents each year. Interestingly, the deadliest time of day for winter car accidents is between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.
In total, more than 1,800 people die in car crashes due to snowy and icy conditions, while more than 135,000 people are injured in accidents on icy and snowy roads.
Mistake 1: Speeding and Using Cruise Control
A common mistake people make is driving too fast for the road conditions. Speeding is always dangerous, but even more so in the winter. Even if you’re not driving above the speed limit, depending on the road conditions, it is still possible you are not driving slow enough to be safe. Slushy and snowy roads can cause drivers to drive 30-40% slower than usual, so be aware that the traffic speed will also change based on the road conditions.
Using cruise control may seem like a great way to monitor your speed in the winter, but you should not use cruise control in the winter. Using cruise control on winter roads can make it more likely for your car to hydroplane on slippery roads.
Solution: Prioritize your safety over your speed during winter driving conditions. Take your time and don’t rush. Modify your driving habits based on the weather and road conditions, such as by slowing down if there is ice or poor visibility. Drive at a pace that helps you see clearly and anticipate changing road conditions.
Mistake 2: Not Installing Winter Tires
Unfortunately, most people in Massachusetts don’t switch their tires for the winter and continue to use all-season tires instead of winter tires. Winter tires are recommended for Massachusetts drivers from November through April. Once April hits, you can switch back to your all-season tires and save your winter tires for future winter seasons.
The tread pattern on a snow tire is very different from the tread on an all-season tire. A winter tire won’t pack as much snow inside its tread as an all-season tire, which means that winter tires provide drivers with much more traction when driving in the snow. Winter tires also offer better traction on roads below 45 °F, even without snow or ice. All-season tires are not equipped to handle slush or freezing rain.
In addition to better traction, snow tires are designed to better handle the fluctuation in freezing temperatures between day and night and provide better braking to prevent winter car crashes. Snow tires are especially helpful if your car is front-wheel or four-wheel drive instead of all-wheel drive.
Winter tires also improve:
- Stopping distance: When driving on packed snow, winter tires bring your car to a stop in a 35% shorter distance than all-season tires (and 50% quicker than summer tires).
- Winter tires are better at taking corners.
- Performance of 4-wheel drive vehicles (yes, you still need winter tires even if your car is 4-wheel drive).
- Crash-avoidance technology in your car operates better as the systems depend on tire adhesion and function.
Solution: Invest in winter tires for better traction when driving on snow and ice. You must get winter tires fitted for all four wheels, not just the two wheels of a two-wheel-drive vehicle.
Mistake 3: Tailgating & Not Allowing for Enough Stopping Distance
Closely following other cars and vehicles is never a good idea, but it is especially dangerous in Massachusetts’ winters.
When driving on a snowy road, it can take your vehicle 10 times longer to come to a complete stop.
When road conditions are good – with dry pavement and stable and consistent road conditions – the rule of thumb is to keep three to four seconds of following distance behind the vehicle in front of you. That means when they pass a sign (for example), it should take you three to four seconds to pass that same landmark.
When the weather and road conditions are poor – such as ice, snow, and unknown variables – you should increase your following distance to eight to ten seconds. Remember, following a car too closely won’t get you to your destination any faster, but it will increase your chances of being in a car accident.
Solution: Increase the following distance between your car and the vehicle in front of you. This will give you more visibility of the road conditions, better protect you from snow or ice that may fly off the car in front of you, and allow for longer stopping distances on slippery winter roads. An eight- to ten-second following distance is recommended with winter road conditions.
Mistake 4: Overestimating Your 4-Wheel Drive or All-Wheel Drive
Don’t assume your car will do the work for you. While four-wheel or all-wheel drive are helpful for winter driving, it cannot assess the roads in the same way you can. You cannot solely rely on 4WD or AWD for traction. You still need to be vigilant and drive at a safe speed for the road conditions that continue to allow you to assess the condition of the road and make adaptations.
Solution: While 4WD and AWD can provide better traction, they will not guarantee safety or invincibility on winter roads. Be aware, drive cautiously, and drive at a speed safe for the road conditions.
Mistake 5: Ignoring Dangerous Road Conditions Like Black Ice
Before driving in winter conditions, take a moment to check the weather and warnings. Look for winter storm warnings, winter weather advisories, winter storm watches, and winter storm warnings.
Being aware of these advisories and warnings will help you know if a storm is on the way, how close a storm is, how serious the storm is expected to be, and what precautions you should take to be safe on the roads (sometimes you may even learn getting on the road is a bad idea altogether).
About 17% of car crashes happen in snowy weather. Sudden and heavy snowstorms can affect road visibility, the slickness of the roads, and damp sleet can make roads icy and slippery.
An often underestimated winter road danger is black ice. Black ice is often invisible, but it is incredibly dangerous. It is usually on paved roads and is extremely smooth and slippery. It can be on the roads at any time of day but is especially common in the mornings or late at night. Icy roads lead to more deadly car accidents than all other weather hazards combined.
Solution: Check the weather forecast and advisories. Be especially cautious when driving on bridges, overpasses, and shaded areas where black ice is more likely to form. Slow down in those areas and areas where the road condition is unclear.
Mistake 6: Failing to Plan Ahead
Planning ahead for winter driving takes many forms. As previously mentioned, it’s important to check the weather forecast to have an idea of the road conditions ahead. It’s also essential to plan for delays, emergencies, and slowdowns.
Snow, heavy rain, or thick fog can immediately reduce a driver’s visibility. This lessened visibility can dramatically slow down traffic speeds to even half the posted speed limit.
Solution: Plan for extra time for your journey so you’re not rushed and so you can accommodate a slower traffic pace. Another great way to plan ahead is by having a winter emergency kit in your car (more on this below).
Mistake 7: Not Clearing Your Windshield & Windshield Wipers of Snow and Ice
We see drivers make this unfortunate mistake all the time. We know you’ve seen it too – you’re driving to work, and you see piles of snow blowing off people’s windshields and the tops of their cars.
Before driving, you must clear your car's windows and mirrors from ice and snow. This doesn’t mean only clearing your windshield so you can see “enough” and hoping the rest will melt or blow off as you drive. You need to remove ALL the snow and ice that could blow off while driving. This means clearing your windows, the hood, the trunk, and the roof of your car. If not, that snow and ice could become a severe hazard and danger to other drivers.
Make sure that there is no built-up snow or ice on your windshield wipers. If there is any build-up, your wipers will not work to keep your windshield clear. Clear windows, windshields, and mirrors will help protect you and other drivers on the roads.
If you are driving and notice other drivers with ice and snow on their cars, double your following distance behind them and safely pass them if you can. This could prevent you from being hit with a pile of heavy snow or ice that could fly off the other vehicle.
Solution: Remove all snow and ice from your car’s windows, mirrors, roof, and headlights before every winter drive. Don’t drive closely behind cars that have snow on their roofs.
Mistake 8: Not Using Your Headlights
Many people forget to turn on their headlights. Driving without headlights during low visibility conditions is extremely dangerous. Use your headlights when it's dawn or dusk, during heavy snow or rain, when it’s foggy or overcast, or when any other winter weather is reducing your visibility.
Solution: Use your headlights to increase your visibility of the road and to increase your visibility to other drivers, especially when it is dark, snowy, or foggy.
Mistake 9: Slamming on the Brakes
Simply put, don’t slam on the brakes in the winter. If you begin to skid on icy roads, you should never slam on the brakes to regain vehicle control. Slamming on the brakes or making a sudden maneuver will cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
Solution: Don’t slam on the brakes; let off the gas to reduce speed. Brake smoothly by pressing the pedal gently and progressively. If you have anti-lock brakes, keep continuous pressure on the pedal, and the ABS (anti-lock braking system) will work with you. If you do not have ABS, you can pump your brakes by pressing the brake pedal, releasing it, and repeating. This prevents your brakes from locking up and helps you maintain control to steer your car.
Mistake 10: Not Having an Emergency Kit in Your Car
It is important to plan for the unexpected in the winter, just in case. One way to prepare for winter driving is to have an emergency kit in your car.
Emergency kits should include:
- An ice scraper & snow brush
- Warm clothing: gloves or mittens, scarves, wool socks
- Blankets or sleeping bags
- Jumper cables
- Traction aids: sand, kitty litter, or traction mats
- A flashlight
- Non-perishable snacks: granola bars, nuts, dried fruits
- First aid kit
Solution: Prepare an emergency kit for your car each fall. Many items can be used year after year.
Mistake 11: Not Checking Your Car Before a Long Winter Drive
Failing to check your car before the winter season and before a long winter drive in Massachusetts is a mistake.
A common winter issue for cars is that temperature drops stiffen rubber tires and affect the tire pressure. It’s important to regularly check your tire pressure as that will help your tires have the best traction possible and will help with braking.
Solution: Before the winter season starts, get your vehicle serviced. Additionally, before a long winter drive, check that your car’s brakes, tires, battery health, lights, tires, fluid levels, and seatbelts are in good condition.
Mistake 12: Not Checking & Clearing Your Exhaust Pipe
A safety concern people often overlook is their exhaust pipe. Before driving, check your exhaust pipe and clear out any excess snow. This is especially important if you park outside or on the road. If a tailpipe is blocked with snow, it can cause carbon monoxide to circle back into the car. If carbon monoxide enters the car, the driver and any passengers in the car can get carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless, so you won’t be able to tell if it’s in your vehicle until it’s too late. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. If you’re exposed long enough, you can become unconscious. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be deadly.
Solution: Check your tailpipe before starting your car up in the winter to make sure it is clear of snow, ice, and other debris.
Mistake 13: Not Taking Your Child’s Coat Off Before Buckling Them in the Car Seat
A mistake parents and caregivers often make during the winter months is not taking a child’s coat off before buckling them into a car seat. A child’s coat must be removed before being buckled in a car seat because seat belts must be snug against the child’s body.
If a child wears a winter coat under their car seat buckles, the car seat will not keep them as safe. The padding of the winter coat creates a gap between the child and the harness straps and the car seat straps are usually loosened to accommodate a bulky winter coat. Even though the car seat straps appear tight and snug over the child’s coat, the coat can squish and compress in a car crash. This could lead to injuries from the child moving more than they should in the car seat, or it could also cause the child to slide out from the car seat straps altogether.
Solution: Buckle children in car seats without a winter coat, and then have them wear the coat backward or tuck a blanket around the child.
Winter driving in Massachusetts is more dangerous, but avoiding these common mistakes will help keep you, your passengers, and other drivers safer all winter long. Remember to drive defensively and make good decisions based on the conditions of the weather, the roads, and your car.
Injured in a Boston or Massachusetts Winter Car Crash? Reach Out to Our Car Accident and Injury Attorney for a FREE Consultation
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 this winter, 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.