Winter driving tips can help prevent a tragedy

BOISE – (January 9, 2020) – With snow in the forecast for many parts of Idaho, AAA says it’s time for everyone to brush up on their winter driving skills.  According to new analysis by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, severe weather conditions are a contributing factor in nearly half a million crashes and over 2,000 deaths nationwide each year.  About 38 percent of bad-weather crashes happen during the winter months.

“On a typical winter’s day in Idaho, the temperature can change dramatically at different elevations and at different times of the day.  That’s why it’s so important to be prepared when the snow falls and the roads freeze,” says AAA Idaho public affairs director Matthew Conde.  “With a few simple adjustments to their daily routine, drivers can prevent a lot of bad things from happening.”

Last winter, AAA provided emergency road service to nearly 14,000 Idahoans, primarily for towing, battery replacement, lockouts, and flat tires.  If your battery is three years old or older, it’s a good idea to have it tested by a trusted repair shop or auto parts store.

Winter driving in the Gem State is often accompanied by freezing precipitation, reduced visibility, and slick surfaces.  Drivers should be especially careful on bridges, curves, and shaded areas, and increase their following distance to 8 to 10 seconds under snowy and icy conditions.  Motorists should also avoid stopping or suddenly accelerating on hills whenever possible.


Getting Drivers “Idaho Ready” for Winter

  • Know before you go.  Check traffic cameras and weather alerts to pick the safest route, and consider the skill level of other drivers – even if you’re ready for severe weather conditions, you may be sharing the road with others who aren’t as well prepared.
  • Stay rested and alert.  AAA research shows that drivers who only sleep between four and five hours a night are as impaired as drivers with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit.  Watch for downed tree limbs and potholes and give yourself plenty of time to react.
  • Keep calm.  Keep your eyes and attention on the road and ditch the distractions.
  • Change your posture.  Adjust your seat position so that you can make smooth, precise movements and easily reach the pedals.
  • Select layered clothing that provides warmth, comfort, and freedom of movement.  Never attempt to add or remove layers while the vehicle is in motion.
  • Insist that everyone wear their seatbelt at all times.
  • Never blindly follow your GPS.  If a road doesn’t look properly maintained, turn around.


Getting a Vehicle Idaho Ready

  • Check hoses and fluid levels.  Make sure connections are secure and free of leaks.  Check hoses for any signs of splitting or cracking – they move the life-blood of your vehicle.
  • Check windshield wipers and washer fluid.  If you see signs of skipping or streaking, check the wiper blades to make sure they are free from splitting and debris.  Switch to a washer fluid that has some de-icing properties, and clear the entire windshield, side mirrors, side windows, and headlight lenses before you hit the road.
  • Inspect tires and brakes.  Tires with less than 4/32” of tread don’t grip the road as well as new tires, so AAA invites drivers to complete the quarter test.  Turn the quarter upside down in the tread – if you can see the top of George Washington’s head, it’s time to think about replacing your tires.
  • Know your traction options.  “Winter tires stay soft in cold conditions, with deep channels that are designed to wick away slush and moisture,” Conde said.  “All-season tires aren’t nearly as effective as the treads become clogged, which is why we encourage drivers with all-season tires to also carry chains.”  Conde reminds drivers to practice putting chains on before it’s necessary to use them.  An instructional video can be found at
  • Pack the essentials.  Extra clothing, food and water, a basic first-aid kit, jumper cables, a flashlight with fresh batteries, basic tools, and flares or reflective triangles are must-haves for a winter safety kit.  Sand, kitty litter, or even your floor mat can help restore traction.


If you lose traction, focus on steering over braking.  Continue to steer in the direction you want to go, and downshift to a lower gear if necessary to reduce speed and re-establish steering control.

It’s normal for anti-lock brakes to pulsate rapidly when the wheels start to lock.  Don’t remove your foot from the brake or pump the brakes, as you’ll interfere with the system’s effectiveness.  Drivers that don’t have anti-lock brakes should use the ‘threshold’ method of braking – with your heel firmly against the floor, use the ball of the foot to apply pressure to the brake, easing up when the wheels lock up.

If you find yourself in need of roadside assistance, remain calm, stay with your vehicle if it is safe to do so, and break out your emergency kit.  Flash your emergency lights, and if appropriate, lift the hood or tie something bright to your vehicle to signal that you need help.  If you need to run the engine to keep warm, make sure the tailpipe is completely clear of snow and other debris.

“Please share your travel plans with friends who can act on your behalf in an emergency,” Conde said.  “We don’t want a single empty chair at the family table due to a roadside tragedy.”