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10 Safe Driving Tips | Driving Your Way Through A Wisconsin Winter


In some states, traffic is paralyzed by a two-inch snowfall. Business stops, schools close, and life stands still. But not in Wisconsin. Our Department of Transportation has a sophisticated weather tracking and monitoring system that lets county plow crews know what type of storm is on the way and the amount of snow that's likely to fall. Add to that the 1,600 ready-to-roll snowplows and you've got a totally prepared winter fighting force.
In fact, Wisconsin is so prepared to clear ice and snow, we rank second in the nation for the fewest work days missed due to winter weather. But being prepared doesn't stop with us. So here are some things you can do to prepared yourself for safe winter driving before the snow falls.


Winterizing your car could keep you out of an accident. In fact, the chances of being involved in car crash are highest in November and December because people's cars - and their driving habits - aren't properly prepared. It is important to have your exhaust system, battery, heater, defroster, wiper blades, washer fluid, emergency signals, headlights, tires, and brakes checked and to replace anything that is worn or damaged. If you don't feel comfortable checking these things yourself, make an appointment with a trusted mechanic - the price of winterization is well worth it. Especially when the alternative is spending the night in a snow bank.......
All-season radial tires are a good bet for safe winter handling. But don't use studded tires (they're illegal) and don't deflate your tires thinking you'll get better traction (you won't). If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), make sure you're very familiar with the way they work because they operate differently than standard brakes. See your owner's manual for information on anti-lock brakes.


Once your vehicle is ready for winter, prepare yourself and your passengers with a winter car kit which can be easily put together using common household items. Ideally, your kit will contain essential items you'll need in case of an emergency. The following list can get you started - don't be afraid to add items that you think may be helpful that aren't on the list. It is far better to be over-prepared than under.....
We suggest:

  • A shovel (small "coal" shovels are ideal)
  • Asturdy window scraper
  • Battery jumper cables
  • Tow chains or a nylon tow strap
  • Tire chains
  • Extra clothing
  • Sleeping bags or blankets (a large sheet of plastic will also work)
  • Sand, cat litter, traction mats or carpet strips
  • High-energy food such as nuts, dried fruit and candy
  • A watertight can for candles and matches
  • Flashlight with extra batteries

For the utmost in winter car safety you may wish to purchase a cellular phone to make keeping in touch easier.


Before you take a winter trip, tell someone at home where you're going, the route you intend to take and when you expect to arrive. Your local radio and television stations, the cable TV weather channel or local newspaper weather section are great sources of information about weather and road conditions across Wisconsin and the rest of the country. Know your route, be mindful of detours or safety warnings, and leave yourself extra time to reach your destination.


First and foremost, SLOW DOWN! The number one cause of winter driving accidents is people driving too fast. So please, slow down. The posted speeds are meant for dry summer road conditions only.

You should keep abreast of weather conditions all winter, even if you'll be driving a short distance. But if you get caught unexpectedly during a winter storm, keep your eyes on the road. Use extra caution during the first few minutes of snow or rain because the pavement gets slippery when precipitation mixes with oil, grease and dirt.

Use extra caution in warming temperatures because ice can be wet at 30 degrees and twice as slippery as "dry" ice at zero. Changing temperatures often cause fog which can be very hard to see when there is snow on the ground.

When precipitation starts to get heavy, turn on your headlights so you can see and be seen, even during a daytime storm. Avoid using your high beams during a night storm because they will reflect against the falling snow which actually makes it more difficult to see clearly.

Here are some general driving tips:

  • Always be sure to allow for plenty of distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you - tailgating is never wise and it can be deadly during a storm.
  • Start slowing down gradually well before intersections.
  • Use extra caution when approaching curves, hills, before making turns, and when driving from a well-traveled highway to a less-traveled highway.
  • Before driving up a snowy or slick hill, build momentum to help you climb. Avoid going down the other side too quickly, though.
  • Be very careful on bridges and overpasses - ice forms much more easily than on the roadway. Bridges can be slick with ice even when they look dry.


Skids happen fast and generally without warning so you have to act fast to get out of one. Whether you have front wheel or rear wheel drive, your goal is the same - retain control of the vehicle and bring it to a safe stop.
Here are a few tips to get you straightened out:

  • Without jerking your steering wheel, steer first in the direction of the skid. As the car comes out of the skid, straighten the wheels or steer slightly in the opposite direction.
  • With a rear wheel drive, take your foot off the accelerator. With a front wheel drive, maintain a steady pressure.
  • Shift into neutral if you can do it swiftly and surely (this is easier with a manual transmission).
  • Once you have control of the car, brake very gently.


The job of the snow plow driver is one of the toughest in the state. They have to keep going until the job is done no matter what the weather. They have to cope with swirling snow, foggy windows, slippery roads and icy intersections. So please "give'em a break."

Snowplows create a swirl of snow which can blind the driver of a car following too closely or even a car approaching from the other direction. So be cautious,courteous,and pass only when it's completely safe. Don't stop too closely behind a stopped snow plow because the driver could be preparing to back up and may not see you.


Don't get steamed -relax, stay calm and try to stay warm. If you're in snow, break out the shovel and clear a path for your drive wheels. Gently try to drive forward without spinning your wheels. If you start to spin, you've lost traction. If that doesn't work, try rocking your car back and forth by gently driving from forward to reverse. Or you can place carpet strips, sand or cat litter under your drive wheels, then try driving straight out.

If you get caught in a blizzard, or stalled on the road, try to get your car off the road so snow plows can get through. In rural areas, it's best to stay in your car and keep warm until help arrives. Run your engine for short periods, just long enough to stay warm, and leave a window open a crack to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. If you get stuck at night, leave your dome light on so work crews can spot you easily. Your emergency flasers will also alert other drivers and road crews to your situation.


  • A cigarette lighter or matches can come in handy, even if you don't smoke. If your car lock freezes, heat your door lock key, the warmed key should melt the ice.
  • Safety belts are a necessity for safe winter driving.
  • Keep your gas tank as full as possible to help prevent gas line freeze-up and use an anti-freeze additive.
  • Always keep your headlights, taillights, and windows clear of snow and ice so you can see and be seen.

Pedestrians & Bicyclists | Oh, Deer | Teen Driving| Car Care | Buckle Up America
10 Safe Driving Tips | Driving Your Way Through A Wisconsin Winter

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