Safe Winter Driving

Know what to do if you're stranded in your car in bad winter weather.

Colorado weather is unpredictable. And our winter weather can vary between beautiful spring-like days and severe cold and snow. Stay safer while driving by being prepared for nasty weather.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends "the three P’s of safe winter driving:"

  • Prepare for driving.
  • Protect yourself and your passengers.
  • Prevent crashes on the road.


Being prepared involves maintaining your vehicle, planning your route, having a plan if a problem arises, and practicing cold weather driving.

Maintain your Vehicle

Ensure that your car is up-to-date on maintenance and repairs. Check all of the following before bad weather arrives:

  • Battery life
  • Tire tread
  • Windshield wiper condition
  • Washer fluid level
  • Antifreeze level
  • Headlights, tail lights and brake lights

Plan your Route

Make sure that you know where you are going and allow yourself plenty of time to get there so you won’t feel a need to rush. Choose a well traveled route and have a GPS or map ready if you’re going to an unfamiliar place. Let someone know what route you will take and your expected arrival time.

Plan for Problems

If you do get stuck, have to stop, or get stalled, you’ll be safer if you know what to do and have some basic supplies.

Following are some items you should have in your car during the winter months:

  • Cell phone (make sure it’s charged)
  • Flashlight (with charged batteries)
  • Jumper cables
  • Snow brush and ice scraper
  • Shovel
  • Abrasive material such as sand, salt, kitty litter, or even floor mats
  • Warning devices such as flares
  • Something bright to use as a marker if stranded
  • Blanket

For longer trips, also include food, water, and medicine.

If you get stuck…

  • Don’t spin your wheels as that will only dig your car in deeper.
  • Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
  • Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.
  • Go easy on the gas when trying to get your car out.
  • Pour your abrasive material in the path of the wheels to help get traction.
  • Try rocking the vehicle by shifting from forward to reverse and back again. Check your owner's manual first — it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.

If you get stranded…

  • Stay in your car.
  • Don’t overexert yourself.
  • Put a bright marker out a window.
  • Turn on the dome light if it’s dark .
  • Only run your car enough to stay warm and make sure the exhaust pipe is clear before you run it.

Practice Cold Weather Driving

It’s important to know how to maneuver your car in dangerous conditions. By practicing, you’ll be better prepared to react quickly and correctly in an emergency situation.

Brake gently to avoid skidding. If you skid, take your foot off the accelerator and steer into the skid. Maintain more distance between you and other cars and leave yourself more distance for stopping. If you need to stop quickly, the best method depends on the type of brakes you have. For antilock brakes, stomp on the brakes (you’ll feel a pulsing, which is normal). For non-antilock brakes, pump the brakes. Go to an empty parking lot if possible to practice maneuvers on ice or in snow.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Keep your headlights on during snow storms to increase your visibility to other motorists.
  • Use lower gears to keep traction, particularly on hills.
  • Be especially careful on bridges and overpasses which tend to ice up more quickly.
  • Don’t pass sand trucks or snow plows. The drivers have limited visibility.
  • Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions.


Always wear your seatbelt. Make sure you use child safety seats properly and never put a rear-facing infant seat in the front seat. Place children under 12 years old in the back seat.


Here are some basic measures to help prevent accidents:

  • Don’t drink (or do drugs) and drive
  • Drive more slowly and increase distances between cars
  • Watch out for pedestrians and stalled vehicles
  • Avoid fatigue while driving

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