Winter Driving Statistics in 2021

Key icy road statistics + insights

  • More than 150,000 (156,164) auto crashes occur annually due to icy roads, federal data shows. (FHWA)
  • Ohio consistently ranks as the state with the most winter driving fatalities, averaging 86 deaths per year. (ValuePenguin)
  • Driving on snowy roads can take your car 10 times longer to stop completely. (AAA)
  • Over 1,800 people die per year in a car crash due to driving in snowy and icy conditions. (FHWA)
  • 35% of all respondents claim that the ice scraper is the most valuable tool to keep in a winter driving safety kit. (The Zebra)
  • Slushy or snowy pavement causes a 30% to 40% speed reduction on major roads. (The Weather Channel)
  • Around 70% of the population in the United States lives in places that have snowy and icy conditions during the winter. (FHWA)
  • About 17% of vehicle crashes occur in snowy conditions. (NHTSA)
  • 70% of roads in the United States are in snowy areas, which increases the threat of an accident significantly. (FHWA)

 

How dangerous is it to drive in 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 snowstorms 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 2021
  2. Winter driving in 2020
  3. Winter driving statistics in 2019
  4. Winter driving accident fatalities
  5. Winter driving statistics by state 
  6. Cold weather road condition statistics
  7. Snow tires: how to improve your driving habits
  8. Safe driving tips in the snow/sleet 
  9. Temporary winter car insurance 
  10. FAQs about winter driving

 

2021 Winter driving car accident statistics

In preparation for the upcoming 2021 winter season, The Zebra wanted to evaluate ways Americans prepare for winter driving. This is a continuation of a study repeated since 2019. See below for further details. This survey asked for responses from 1500 Americans. 

  • 35.1% of respondents identified that the ice scraper is the most important tool to have in your car during winter. Gloves or mittens were identified as the next most important (28%), and sand or kitty litter was the third most important item to have (25.4%).
  • 75.8% of the respondents have driven through black ice. Surprisingly, the West as a geographic region claimed to have the most experience (82.8%) with black ice while only 68% of respondents from the South experienced black ice at least once in their lives.
  • 57.9% of respondents never used snow tires in the winter.

Temporary insurance is a large part of winter driving as sometimes people are required to store their cars in garages during a large storm. However, it seems many Americans are not clear on how temporary car insurance can be used properly.

  • 12.9% of Americans believe you can pause your insurance during the months you don't drive your car, which is incorrect.
  • More men (14.4%) seem to be more unclear about this insurance policy than women (11.6%)
In your opinion, which of the following is most valuable to keep in a winter driving safety kit_.png

 

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 have 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, responsible drivers 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 engaging 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 temporarily 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 Winter driving accident statistics

In November of 2019, The Zebra conducted a nationwide 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 snowiest/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 crash fatalities each year.

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

Most winter driving 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 road 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. 

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 to 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.

Snow tires — what you need to know 

Despite the additional expense, winter tires are necessary for a safe drive during the winter season. They are unique in shape and design to provide the best experience for driving your car on snowy roads. Specifically built to handle the fluctuation in freezing temperatures between day and night, snow tires provide also additional adhesion for better braking and cornering performance to prevent a winter crash in bad driving conditions. Be sure to look for an "M+S" on the inside of the tire to be sure you are getting all-season tires. However, be warned that all-season tires are not equipped for freezing rain or slush. 

The researchers at the University of Michigan created a report exploring the safety performance of winter tires in the context of vehicle braking, cornering and loss of control. It examined tire certification, the influence of winter tires on crash frequency, and how they perform on four-wheel-drive vehicles compared with two-wheel drive vehicles. The team identified ten unique findings:

  1. The main benefit of winter tires is improved tire adhesion, braking, and cornering performance – not acceleration performance.
  2. Winter tires provide improved traction on roads that are below 45 °F even when snow and ice are not present.
  3. The stopping-distance performance of winter tires on packed snow is approximately 35% shorter than for all-season tires and 50% shorter than for summer tires.
  4. Winter tire improvements in stopping distance also extend to improvements in cornering capability.
  5. Tires designated as mud and snow tires do not necessarily perform well on packed snow and ice, requiring 40% longer stopping distance than similar tires.
  6. Tires with aggressive treads will not necessarily perform well in slippery winter conditions unless they have the 3PMSF symbol.
  7. In Canada,  there is a reported 49% increase in insurance claims. 
  8. The perception that four-wheel drive vehicles do not require winter tires in cold climates is false.
  9. Crash-avoidance technologies such as electronic stability control depend on tire adhesion to function.
  10. It is imperative that winter tires be fitted to all four wheels and not just the driven wheels of a two-wheel-drive vehicle.

 

Winter driving tips

Before taking a drive in wintery conditions, always check the winter advisory warnings: winter storm outlook, winter weather advisory, winter storm watch, and winter storm warning. These stages indicate the proximity of a storm, the severity of the threat to life and limb presented by the storm, and what precautions citizens should take against the adverse weather. Read on for more information about driving in bad weather.

  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

Most major insurance companies will not issue a temporary auto insurance policy, requiring a policy term of at least six months and sometimes even a year. You may come across insurance companies advertising short-term coverage, but be warned: these companies may fall short on coverage and customer service.

If you want a car insurance policy for less than six months, you would need to cancel your standard auto insurance policy mid-term. This is not recommended, as it comes with its own consequences. However, there are ways to obtain temporary insurance coverage outside of the typical six- or 12-month policy period structure. Drivers are legally required to carry auto insurance in almost every U.S. state, and the short-term coverage options listed above do not always offer the appropriate protection. When you run the risk of getting into an accident without proper protection, you are likely to pay for damages out of pocket.

This is the primary risk of driving without insurance. If you're found at fault in a collision but you don't have insurance, you may be ticketed, have your driver's license suspended, and potentially be sued for the property or bodily injury damages you cause. If you’re the victim of a hit-and-run accident, you won’t have any coverage. Any property damage to your vehicle would be paid out-of-pocket.

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 

Question: Are there more car accidents in the winter?

Answer: 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.

Q: How many more accidents happen in the winter?

A: According to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, more than 150,000 car accidents are caused by icy roads.

Q: Do people drive less in winter?

Fox News found that nine in ten Americans don’t trust other drivers to stay safe on the road in the winter. This may discourage frequent or unsafe driving. 

Q: How dangerous is winter driving?

A: Over 1,800 people die per year due to driving in snowy and icy conditions, according to the Federal Highway Administration. This makes winter driving nearly as dangerous as texting and driving.

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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 2021.

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

Taylor Covington
Taylor CovingtonContent Researcher

An in-house qualitative researcher for The Zebra, Taylor collects, organizes, and analyzes data to shine a light on trends in the insurance industry and beyond. Taylor's data studies have been cited by Yahoo Finance, The Atlantic, MSN, PolicyAdvice, Fox Business, The Simple Dollar, Hippo Insurance, and Bloomberg.

In her hometown of Austin, Texas, she can be found reading at Half Price Books or eating the world's greatest pizza at Via 313.