Winter Weather and Car Accidents: How Real is the Danger?

Just how dangerous is it to head out on an icy road? And how can you stay safe?

Believe it or not, summer and fall months see more deadly crashes than winter or spring months—but that doesn’t mean that winter weather isn’t capable of wreaking some serious havoc. And the statistics on fatalities are staggering: On average, more than 100 people die every day from car crashes in the United States. For a single day, the death toll can range from 45 to 252 people.

While people tend to be well aware of the general dangers of winter storms, folks might not know that the leading cause of death from winter storms isn’t exposure or exhaustion, but instead, automobile or transportation accidents.

The Numbers are a Bit Scary

According to the Federal Highway Administration, 70 percent of the nation’s roads are located in snowy regions—in other words, anywhere that receives more than five inches of snowfall each year, on average. In addition, nearly 70 percent of the U.S. population lives in these snowy regions. In other words? A lot of us have to deal with winter storms. And about 70 percent of the accidental deaths that occur in the wintertime happen in automobiles.

Other Sobering Stats (from the folks at

  • Over 1,300 people are killed and more than 116,800 people are injured in vehicle crashes on snowy, slushy or icy pavement annually.
  • Every year, nearly 900 people are killed and nearly 76,000 people are injured in vehicle crashes during snowfall or sleet.
  • Each year, 24 percent of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on snowy, slushy or icy pavement and 15 percent happen during snowfall or sleet.
  • Freeway speeds are reduced by 3 to 13 percent in light snow and by 5 to 40 percent in heavy snow.
  • Average speeds on arterial roads decline by 30 to 40 percent on snowy or slushy pavement.
  • Winter road maintenance accounts for roughly 20 percent of state Department of Transportation maintenance budgets.
Be careful out there.
Be careful out there.

How to Prepare for Winter Storms Behind the Wheel

Disaster Center put together a list of helpful tips to ensure you’re prepared in the event of winter weather—or a winter storm—before you ever get behind the wheel. Keep in mind:

  • First, have your car winterized before the winter storm season starts.
  • Keep your cell-phone charged—or even better, invest in a car charger already. If you’re planning on traveling, make sure you’ll have it with you.
  • Keep a windshield scraper and small broom in your trunk, in case you need to remove snow and ice.
  • Keep a disaster supplies kit in the trunk of your car. Its possible contents? Blankets or sleeping bags, extra sets of clothing and cold-weather gear accessories, plastic bags (for sanitation), high-energy snacks like nuts, jumper cables, a flashlight with extra batteries, and a first aid kit. For an uber-complete list, see here.
  • Keep your car’s gas tank full—both in case of emergencies, and to keep the fuel line from freezing.
  • Tell Mom (or whoever) that you’re on your way! Also tell them your route and your ETA.