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Navigating Winter Weather: College Student's Guide to Safe Driving

Navigating Winter Weather: College Student’s Guide to Safe Driving

Owning a car in college is a boon. You don’t have to rely on friends for lifts to and from class and won’t freeze while cycling to campus. However, driving in the colder winter months presents serious challenges. Snow, ice, and extreme cold can present precarious road conditions that increase your risk of accidents and collisions.

Get ahead of the winter weather by equipping your car with winter tires and altering your driving style to handle slippery roads and wet weather. This will keep you safe while on the road and ensure you make it to all your classes and social activities on time.

Preparing Your Vehicle

When searching for your first car, you probably weighed up variables like mileage, style points, and fuel efficiency. However, when the cooler months roll around, you’ll need to reassess your car to ensure that it can stand up to the winter weather.

Start by taking your car into the garage for a service between October and early December. This gives mechanics a chance to find faults, check your tires, and refill your oil. This also minimizes the risk of a breakdown while on the road and can save you money by ensuring that your car is running correctly.

If you live in an area that experiences snowfall, cold conditions, and icy roads, you should invest in a set of winter tires. Winter tires are essential in cold climates, as snow and ice can reduce grip on the road by up to 50%. By upgrading your wheels for the winter, you can improve your stopping time and enjoy heightened traction when others are sliding around the road. You can swap out your winter tires in spring, too, which will improve the longevity of both sets over time.

You will also need an emergency kit for your car in the winter. This should feature a candle-powered heater, a flashlight, a cell phone charger, and a small tool kit. If you expect to be driving in an area that experiences heavy snowfall, you may also want to pack a shovel and some kitty litter to help remove snow and help you gain traction when driving on ice. A basic first-aid kit can also be handy in an emergency, as can a set of warm gloves, hats, and a scarf.

Altering Your Driving Style

Driving in the winter presents a series of challenges to you as a driver. You’ll experience reduced grip thanks to ice and rain and may have to drive in the dark more often when the days grow short. Altering your driving habits to accommodate these challenges is key.

Start by leaving earlier for classes and social activities. You don’t want to rush while on the way to campus when driving in winter weather, as driving at speed is sure to increase your risk of a crash when the road conditions are poor.

Try to research your route before you leave and study from home in the event of extreme weather. However, if you do find yourself driving in extreme weather, make appropriate adjustments like:

  • Snowstorms: Heavy snowfall can render roads impassable and drifts can trap you in your car. If you can drive, slow down and leave a longer gap between you and the driver in front.
  • Flooding: Driving through flood water can damage your car’s engine and put your safety at risk. Standing water also increases your risk of hydroplaning. Stay safe by driving slower than normal and turning around if you encounter flooded roads.
  • Fog: Fog dramatically reduces visibility and increases the risk of a collision. Minimize your risk of an accident by navigating built-up areas like campuses with care. Make sure your fog lights are working properly before you set off, too, as this will help you be seen by other road users.

Driving in the winter is all about minimizing risk and slowing down. Leave earlier when possible and try to stick to roads that you know are well-maintained. If possible, try to do the bulk of your driving a few hours after the sun has risen, as this will reduce your risk of hitting a patch of black ice in the cold winter mornings.

If you do hit a patch of ice, try not to panic. Keep your speed consistent and do not overcorrect your steering. Overreacting will increase your risk of going off the road when you clear the ice. Instead, pick a higher gear and aim to keep your RPM low. Pull over if hitting the ice has rattled your confidence and start again slowly when you’re ready to drive safely.


Navigating the winter weather safely requires forward planning and a risk-averse mindset. Get started by servicing your car before the cold weather rolls in and install winter tires. This will minimize the risk of a breakdown, reduce the chances of an accident, and keep your car insurance costs down. If possible, avoid driving in extreme weather and study from home after heavy snowfall. If you do drive in extreme conditions, slow down and leave plenty of room for other road users.

SEE ALSO: Navigating the Uncharted Waters: What Students Aren’t Prepared for in College Life