Tips for Winter Driving

In Colorado, winter driving conditions can change from sunny to blowing snow in as little as an hour. That makes preparedness an important part of every driver’s responsibility on the road. You should always seek updated road condition information, know your vehicle, use safe driving techniques, and bring along the right emergency gear and equipment.

Gather Information on Road Conditions – There are numerous ways of getting road and weather information. Check newspapers, television, radio, and internet sites. If you have a smart phone, download the Colorado Department of Transportation’s app so that you have access to information while away from traditional media. See page X for more information.

Prepare Yourself – A study published in the American Journal of Public Health by Dr. Daniel Eisenberg and Dr. Kenneth Warner of the University of California at Berkley shows that snowy weather causes 45,000 more injury auto accidents and 150,000 more property-damage-only auto accidents every year. The researchers also found that winter weather related car accidents are much more common on the first snowy day than on subsequent days. On the first occurrence of winter weather, take extra caution as you and other drivers become accustomed to the hazardous conditions.

Bring the Right Supplies – Be prepared for anything, including being stranded in your car. You’ll want to make sure you have the following:

  • Windshield wiper fluid
  • Flares / Reflectors
  • Shovels
  • Blankets
  • Ice scraper
  • Sleeping bag
  • Jumper cables
  • Snow Brush
  • Extra coat, gloves and hat
  • Tire chains
  • Chains or Tow straps
  • First Aid Kit
  • Nonperishable food items
  • Batteries
  • Waterproof matches and a candle
  • Flashlight and lantern
  • Sand or traction mats

Drive Safe, Drive Smart, Drive slow – Even in bad weather, you are the most important tool in keeping your car safe on the road. Here are a few tips for driving in winter conditions:

  1. Go Slow – The faster you’re going, the longer it will take to stop. Accelerate gently and always maintain control of the vehicle.
  2. Stay Back – Give other cars extra space. You’ll need extra car links in order to stop and avoid a collision.
  3. Brake – Brake early, brake slowly, brake correctly, and never slam on your brakes. If you have anti-lock brakes, press the pedal down firmly and hold it. If you don’t have anti-lock brakes, gently pump the pedal. Either way, give yourself plenty of room to stop.
  4. Control – When driving on ice or snow, do not use cruise control and avoid abrupt steering maneuvers. When merging into traffic, take it slow. Sudden movements can cause your vehicle to slide.
  5. Vision – Be aware of what’s going on well ahead of you. Actions by other vehicles will alert you to problems more quickly, and give you that split-second of extra time to react safely.
  6. Safe Parking – Don’t park on inclines or slopes, as cars can slide down grades into traffic or objects.

Give Snow Plows and De-Icing Trucks Room – Colorado’s snowplows use distinctive amber and blue lights to warn you well in advance that snow removal operations are underway. When you see these lights slow down and use caution. Your best course of action will be to follow well behind the plow with your headlights on, staying away from flying snow and sand which the truck may be spreading to improve traction. Avoid driving in the snowplow’s blind spots. If you must pass the plow, remember the limited visibility caused by flying snow.

You may also encounter a CDOT truck applying liquid de-icer; stay back to avoid getting extensive liquid on your windshield.

Make Sure Your Car is up to the Job – No one wants to suffer a breakdown in the middle of the road in a terrible snow storm, this makes proactive auto maintenance very important.

  • Remove any snow from your vehicles windows, lights, brake lights, or signals before setting out.
  • De-icer can be sticky, so be sure to carry plenty of windshield wiper fluid.
  • Make sure you get a tune up prior to the snow season to reduce your risk of roadside breakdowns.
  • Make sure your tires have adequate tread and that you’re carrying tire chains.

If You Get Stranded – Getting stranded can be really scary, but these tips can keep you safe until help arrives.

  1. If the road ahead is clear and your car can be dug out, use your shovel and traction mat or sand to free the vehicle. Ease your car out gently and steadily to avoid spinning the tires.
  2. If the road isn’t clear, there is no shelter in sight, or you’ve run into a ditch, stay in the car. Your car is your only certain source of shelter.
  3. Be sure your vehicle exhaust pipe is clear of snow and keep a window slightly open for ventilation. Run the car only a few minutes at a time to stay warm. Dress in layers for warmth and cover your entire body with a sleeping bag or blanket. If there are two or more people, huddle together to conserve body heat.
  4. If possible, use your flares or reflectors to indicate that you need aid.
  5. Don’t eat the snow. Eating snow will lower your body temperature. Melt it using matches, and drink the water. If you brought food along, conserve it, but eat to keep your strength and body temperature up.
  6. Don’t panic. Road maintenance crews will be out working to open the highways and look for stranded motorists. If you are stranded on a backcountry road, remain in the shelter of your vehicle until the storm passes so that you can be spotted.


Colorado Department of Transportation. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Daniel Eisenberg and Kenneth E. Warner.  Effects of Snowfalls on Motor Vehicle Collisions, Injuries, and Fatalities. American Journal of Public Health: January 2005, Vol. 95, No. 1, pp. 120-124. Retrieved from

Online Winter Driving Resources

Colorado Department of Transportation Travel Center
Sign up for email or text message alerts, view regional information, road closures, etc.

See traffic information, weather conditions, road conditions, airport closures, and more all in one easy location.

CDOT’s Twitter Feed: @ColoradoDOT
Receive immediate updates on weather information, road closures, and more directly to your computer or phone.

CDOT Smart Phone App
iPhone & iPad:

Remember, never text, read or access apps on your phone while driving!

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