Most Common Causes of Accidents in the Winter
Winter brings more than cold weather; it also increases road hazards. As ice forms and snow accumulates, driving becomes riskier. In 2020, wintry conditions resulted in 374 fatal crashes and 25,000 injury-related incidents nationwide. Missouri is no exception, particularly on St. Louis’s I-270, known for its treacherous icy overpasses.
Knowing typical winter driving obstacles and how to handle them can boost your safety, helping you navigate more confidently in hazardous conditions.
In the colder months, roads become more dangerous due to fluctuating and freezing temperatures, leading to black ice, reduced visibility, and snow accumulation. Common causes of winter vehicle crashes include:
- Black ice. This thin layer of transparent ice forms on roadways and is especially treacherous because it’s hard to spot until you’re driving on it. Black ice typically forms in the early morning or late evening and often appears on bridges, overpasses, and shaded road areas, catching many drivers by surprise.
- Reduced visibility. Falling snow, sleet, or fog can reduce how far ahead drivers can see, making it harder to react to obstacles or changes in traffic. Reduced sunlight in the winter months and the glare from snow can also impact vision, further impacting driving conditions.
- Inadequate tire traction. Worn or non-winter tires struggle to grip icy or snowy roads, leading to skidding or losing control. In winter, tire tread should be no less than 4/32”. Replacing worn tires or investing in winter-specific options can improve your vehicle’s traction.
- Braking challenges. Wet, icy, or snow-covered roads can increase stopping distances, causing drivers to misjudge when and how hard to brake. Antilock braking systems (ABS) can help, but drivers can avert accidents by practicing gentle, steady braking.
- Snowbanks and drifts. Snow drifts and banks can block drivers’ vision at intersections or unexpectedly narrow lanes, forcing them to adjust quickly. Snowbanks can hide obstacles like signs or barriers, creating unexpected hazards.
- Inexperienced drivers. Those unfamiliar with winter driving techniques can overreact or make errors, causing collisions. For instance, a newer driver might misjudge stopping distances on icy roads or fail to steer correctly during a skid, leading to a crash.
- Poor road maintenance. Not all roads are cleared or treated promptly after a snowfall, leaving them slippery and hazardous. Areas with less traffic or rural locations might not get the same attention as major highways, leading to dangerous spin-outs or collisions.
- Vehicle malfunctions. Freezing temperatures can impact a vehicle’s performance, like battery issues or thickened fluids, potentially leading to breakdowns in dangerous situations. For example, brake fluid thickened by extreme cold might reduce braking efficiency, causing a collision at an intersection.
To stay safe on wintry roads, it’s essential to prep your car and adjust your driving habits. Here are some pointers for safe driving in colder weather:
- Perform cold-weather maintenance. Regular winter maintenance, including checking batteries, antifreeze levels, and oil viscosity, can help prevent mechanical issues, keeping you safer on the road.
- Slow down. Reduced speeds give you more time to react and increase stopping distances on slippery surfaces. Slow down when driving in ice or snow, put your phone away, and focus on the road.
- Keep a safe following distance. Increase the space between you and the car in front, allowing more room to stop. The standard distance is about three seconds, so consider doubling this for extra protection.
- Use your headlights. Use your headlights in wintery weather, even during daylight. They can increase visibility and help other drivers see you during snow, sleet, or fog. Remember to use low-beam lights or fog lights in fog instead of high-beams for better visibility.
- Avoid sudden moves. Smooth steering, braking, and accelerating will reduce the chance of skidding. Avoid making sudden maneuvers and brake gently.
- Stay updated on weather forecasts. Knowing what’s coming can help you plan routes or decide when to avoid driving altogether. Download a local weather app like the KMOV Weather App for St. Louis area alerts.
- Keep an emergency kit in your car. Include a flashlight, blanket, jumper cables, and non-perishable snacks. Also, pack a three-day water supply for each person in the vehicle.
- Clear snow and ice from your vehicle. Use an ice scraper and brush to remove ice or snow from your car, including the windshield, windows, mirrors, and roof. This ensures visibility and prevents chunks of snow from hitting other cars.
- Practice winter driving. Find an empty parking lot and get a feel for how your car handles in slippery conditions. Practice maneuvers like controlled braking, gentle acceleration, and steering into skids to better understand your vehicle’s response.
- Stay home if necessary. If conditions are too treacherous, consider staying home. Unless it’s an emergency, it’s best to wait for conditions to improve.
Even with the best precautions, winter roads can be unpredictable, especially when other drivers aren’t cautious. If you are hurt in an accident this winter due to another driver’s negligence, you may have the right to compensation.
Our car accident lawyers at Cofman Townsley can investigate your case to determine who’s at fault and help you file a claim to pay for medical bills and lost wages. Contact us today for a free case review and learn your legal options after a winter-weather crash.