Winter Driving Statistics

Key insights + statistics

  • About 17% of car accidents occur in snowy conditions (FHWA).
  • Over 1,800 people die per year due to driving in snowy and icy conditions (FHA).
  • 156,164 auto crashes occur annually due to icy roads, federal data shows (FHWA).
  • Driving on snowy roads can take your car 10 times longer to stop completely (AAA).
  • 70% of roads in the United States are in snowy areas, which increases the threat of an accident significantly(FHWA).

 

Is it okay to drive in the snow?

Nearly 2000 people die and over 135,000 people are injured each year due to car accidents on icy and snowy roads. Driving during the winter is particularly dangerous because of black ice. Black ice is often a transparent coating of ice, found especially on a road or other paved surface, and it is nearly invisible to the human eye when driving. Other dangers include sudden heavy snow storms that affect road visibility and damp sleet that turns the roads both icy and slippery. 

Along with safety tips for driving in winter conditions, The Zebra has compiled data from the United States Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, and the Weather Channel to highlight the dangers of winter driving. Based on this compiled data and with The Zebra's own proprietary data, it is our professional recommendation to not drive during sleet, snow, or icy conditions. 

 

Table of contents 

  1. Winter driving in 2020
  2. Winter driving statistics in 2019
  3. Icy road deaths statistics 
  4. Winter driving statistics by state 
  5. Cold weather condition statistics 
  6. Road condition statistics 
  7. Safe driving tips in the snow/sleet 
  8. Temporary winter car insurance 
  9. FAQs about winter driving

 

2020 Winter driving crash statistics

The Zebra surveyed 1,500 respondents to identify the most commonly-held beliefs around winter driving in late 2020. Many similar questions were asked in 2019 of a similar audience and the results are varied.

  • 36.9% (1.9% higher than last year's survey) of respondents believe that an ice scraper is the most valuable tool to keep in a winter driving safety kit, over gloves, a flashlight, a snow brush, kitty litter, floor mats, or a disposable cellphone. 
  • Education and awareness around seatbelt safety has improved. Only 51.5% claim you should put the seatbelt around the outside of a child's winter coat when buckling them in. Interestingly, the female population had a better understanding of proper seatbelt procedures (59.3% vs 40.7% of male respondents). 
  • The majority of respondents have had to encounter black ice at least once during their lives. Only 11.4% of respondents located in the Northeast have never driven on black ice, while 75.7% of respondents in the south have had to encounter black ice. 

Overall, respondents are aware of proper safety tips when driving during the winter.

  • In winter, the temperature drops and this can stiffen the rubber and affect tire pressure in winter tires. To counteract this, a responsible driver should check their tires frequently. 86.4% of respondents knew this is a safe practice during the winter.
  • 93.3% of people correctly identified that you should not use cruise-control or traction control on icy roads.
  • 96.1% of respondents correctly identified that if you begin to skid on icy roads, the driver should never slam on the brake pedal in order to regain control of the vehicle. Consider engage anti-lock brakes before driving for this same reason.

However, when it comes to insurance, many are still confused about temporary insurance.

  • 88.3% of people knew you cannot temporary suspend your car insurance during the winter.
  • 54.2% of women also knew that limited winter driving is not an excuse to cancel your car insurance, while only 45.8% of men are aware of this. 
  • Baby boomers were the age group that were most aware of this insurance stipulation (19.3%) while only 10.4% of Zoomers could correctly identify this aspect of insurance.
how many inches do you feel safe driving in

 

2019 Icy road statistics 

In November of 2019, The Zebra conducted a nation-wide survey to better understand the behaviors and attitudes of American drivers during the winter.

  • 35% of all respondents claim that the ice scraper is the most valuable tool to keep in a winter driving safety kit. Only 15% of people responded that a cell phone is the most valuable.
  • Everyone knows about driving safety, but not so much seatbelt safety. 54.6% of respondents said to put the seatbelt around the outside of a child’s winter coat. AAA has publicly disputed this.
  • 18.1% of Gen Z’s (ages 18 to 24) respondents believe that you can suspend your car insurance temporarily for the winter. This belief is categorically incorrect.
  • 2.2% of people from the Northeast did not know it’s not safe to drive cruise control on slippery roads while 7.9% of people from the South lacked the same knowledge.
  • All respondents 65 years and older knew never to slam on the brakes to regain control of a sliding car.
  • 17.3% of young female respondents (ages 18-24) believe you slam on the brakes to regain control of a sliding car.

 

Winter car accident fatalities

The following statistics are taken from USDOT, FHWA, NHTSA, and the Auto Insurance Center.

  • Each year, an average of 1,836 deaths and 136,309 injuries are attributed to conditions on icy and snowy roads.
  • Icy road fatalities account for more deaths than all other weather hazards combined (3.6 times more). 
  • About 3,200 Americans died in motor vehicle accidents because of winter driving conditions, such as snow, freezing rain, sleet, or ice in the years 2011 to 2015.
  • Over 1,200 people died in wintertime motor vehicle accidents in 2013.
  • USA Today found the deadliest times of day for winter car accidents in 2015: 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. According to the report, Saturday was the deadliest day (286 deaths), but Friday was a close second (197 deaths).
  • According to a study done by the FHWA, non-fatal injuries and property damage incidents increase significantly when it snows, but fatal crashes decline.

 

Winter driving statistics by state

  • Ohio consistently ranks as the state with the most winter driving fatalities, averaging 86 deaths per year. 
  • According to Ice Road Safety, the Midwest and areas around the Great Lakes see the most snowy/icy road deaths on average. The states with the most average deaths are:
    • Michigan
    • Pennsylvania
    • Indiana
    • New York
  • Surprisingly, Texas ranks as the eighth deadliest state for wintertime vehicle accidents, according to the Auto Insurance Center. While certain northern cities in Texas (like Dallas) only see about 2 inches of snow or year, the state deals with many icy road deaths each year.

The following statistics are taken from Ice Road Safety. Pennsylvania had the most icy-road-fatalities between 2009 and 2010. Wisconsin and Tennessee had the least fatalities for that same period:

Most icy-road fatalities between 2009 and 2010

StateFatalities
Pennsylvania26
Nebraska23
Missouri23
Iowa20
Texas19
Michigan18
Minnesota17
Ohio17
Oregon17
Colorado16
Oklahoma16
Kansas16
Illinois15
Indiana14
New York14
Tennessee12
Wisconsin12

 

Cold weather condition statistics

Buzzstream News and the Weather Channel have been used here as additional resources.

  • Every year since 1995, winter snowstorms cost the country $1.2 billion and cause about 4% of all motor vehicle crashes in the US.  
  • Slushy or snowy pavement causes a 30% to 40% speed reduction on major roads. 
  • Ice, sleet, and snow on roads injure over 116,000 a year. 
  • According to the FHWA, the first snowfall of the year is significantly more dangerous than following snowfalls.
  • In addition to reduced visibility, winter storms cause “black ice,” which is known as a very thin layer of ice on top of roads, making driving in these storms very dangerous and unpredictable. 

 

Winter road condition statistics

The following data is compiled mostly from the Federal Highway Administration. 

  • Almost half a million car accidents each year are due to winter storms, wet road conditions, and general bad weather. 
  • According to the American Automobile Association, there are more than 2,000 winter road deaths. 
  • Heavy rain, thick fog, or consistent snow can reduce driver visibility almost instantaneously. Heavy snow specifically can slow traffic speeds more than 60% of their regular speed limit. 
  • 74% of all weather-related car accidents are due to wet roads. Of this percentage, sleet and snow cause 13%, while only 3% are related to foggy conditions.

 

Winter driving tips

  1. Always carry an emergency case full of supplies in case of an emergency. Consider adding these items to your safety supplies:
    • Jumper cables
    • Blankets
    • Ice scraper
    • Kitty litter
    • A cellphone
    • Antifreeze
  2. Clear your windshield and windshield wipers of excess snow completely before driving.
  3. Check your car’s brakes, battery, lights, tires, and seatbelts before you leave for a long winter drive. Consider having additional snow tires in the trunk in case of a blow out. 
  4. Be sure to clear out the exhaust pipe of excess snow. If the tailpipe is blocked, this can cause carbon monoxide to circle back into the car. 
  5. When preparing a child for a winter drive, buckle them into car seats and seat belts without winter coats first, then you can tuck a blanket around them, lay their jackets on their laps, or have them wear it backward. Seat belts are meant to be snug against the body.

For more safe driving tips during dangerous weather conditions, check out this resource for winter weather safety

 

Temporary winter car insurance

If you choose to stop driving your car for the winter months to avoid the dangerous conditions outside, you may be tempted to cancel your insurance temporarily, or simply pause the coverage. However, you can’t actually do that. Due to the way your state’s vehicle registration and insurance works, if you drop your coverage, you could face a very significant fine. However, there are two things you can do to prevent paying full price for your car insurance:

  1. Drop all coverage to comprehensive with storage coverage.
  2. Reduce your coverage level.

If you drop your physical coverage (comprehensive and collision), here is what your premium may look like:

Coverage LevelAverage Annual PremiumMonthly Premium
Liability Only$672$56
$500 Deductible$1,427$119
$1,000 Deductible$1,268$106

For more information on temporary winter car insurance, check out our guide.

 

FAQs about winter driving 

Which car is best for safe winter driving?

According to 2020 data from the American Automobile Association, the Subaru Crosstrek consistently scores well in safety ratings and other factors including ground clearance, all-wheel traction, and storage room. These features allow the Crosstrek to properly navigate slick roads and high snow bluffs, as well as provide room for winter sports equipment. 

If you're looking to purchase the best car for winter driving, consider the insurance premiums before buying. The average annual premium for the Subaru Crosstrek is $954. Below are the cheapest rates for a Subaru Crosstrek in 2019 from the top insurance companies.

CompanyAverage Insurance Rate
Concord$613.00
AAA$624.23
Bear River$641.00
Erie$700.40
Nodak$706.50
North Carolina Farm Bureau$775.07
PEMCO Insurance$810.25
MMG Insurance$873.6
Iowa Farm Bureau$875.00
Co-Op Insurance$877.00

What percentage of the United States gets snow?

According to LiveScience, it is possible for every state in the U.S to get snow — even Florida! While the conditions required for snow are not consistent each winter in every state, snow in Hawaii can happen. But, according to the FHWA, "over 70 percent of the nation's roads are located in snowy regions, which receive more than five inches average snowfall annually." This is why car accidents due to snowy or icy conditions are so prevalent; there is a high change that the roads Americans drive on during the winter will be dangerous.

Is it dangerous to drive in snow?

Based on yearly statistics, it is absolutely dangerous to drive in snow, despite the best safety tips. Additionally, several states see driving in the snow as such a threat to public and individual safety that they've made it illegal. The following is a list of states where it is illegal to drive during a snowstorm:

  • Alaska
  • Connecticut
  • Georgia
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Wisconsin

Other states list leaving snow on your vehicle while driving as punishable by a fine.

How much should you reduce your speed when driving in snow?

good rule of thumb when you're driving in uncertain conditions, consider reducing your speed by a third when on wet roads and by half when you're driving on snow-packed roads. But when you're driving on icy roads, the best course of action is to pull over and wait for safer conditions.

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Resources

Methodology

This study was conducted for The Zebra using Google Consumer Surveys. The sample consisted of no less than 1,000 completed responses per question. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population. This survey was conducted in 2020.

Copyright © 2020 InsuranceZebra, Inc. All rights reserved. For inquiries regarding this content, please contact our team at statistics@thezebra.com.

Taylor Covington LinkedIn

An “everyday expert," Taylor researches the finer points of insurance, technology, and personal finance. She is also a frequent contributor to home and lifestyle publications. In her hometown city of Austin, Texas, she can be found reading at Half Priced Books, or eating the world's greatest pizza at Via 313.