While neither is without risk, most drivers assume that driving in snow is more dangerous than driving in rain. After all, a build up of snow changes the composition of the road, falling snowflakes make it hard to see, and some cars don’t even start in cold weather.
analyzed NHTSA crash data from 2005 through 2019, looking at weather-related accidents in the months of December, January, and February.
Surprisingly, the three states with the most fatal winter crashes per 100,000 residents are Mississippi (72.57), Alabama (61.08), and Louisiana (56.10), three places which see very little snowfall. In fact, 9 of the 10 states with the most winter crashes are located in the South or Southwest.
Conversely, 7 of the 10 states with the least number of fatal winter crashes are located in the Northeast, a region which gets a lot of snow each year. The three safest states are Massachusetts (16.84 fatal crashes per 100,000 residents), Rhode Island (17.71) and New York (18.34).
If snow is so dangerous, why do mild southern states have up to four times as many fatal winter crashes as their snowy northern counterparts?
While northern states get more snow than southern ones, they get less winter precipitation in general.
Northeastern snow storms come in short, sharp bursts. And once roads have been cleared, it's not unusual for there to be an extended dry period, during which time driving conditions are relatively safe.
Conversely, in the South, it can rain and drizzle for weeks on end—drivers can’t just sit at home and wait it out.
Additionally, studies show that drivers perceive rain to be less dangerous than snow.
This, “it’s just rain” attitude, causes many people to drive too fast, underestimating the risks associated with hydroplaning and reduced braking distances.
Snow offers a very visual reminder to drivers to slow down and modify driving behaviour in order to avoid skidding or losing control.
Clear ice and snow off your car. Be sure to clear snow off the car’s roof too, as this can slide off when driving, endangering other motorists.
Drive slowly, leaving three car lengths between you and the car in front.
Avoid slamming on the brakes, as it can cause you to lose traction.
Try not to accelerate or brake into a turn. Modify your speed on approach.
Keep your steering wheel as straight as possible.
Controlling a skid:
If your front wheels have lost traction, ease off the gas, don’t brake, and steer gently in the direction you want to go. Once the traction on your tires has gripped the road again, slowly accelerate away.
If your back wheels are skidding and your car begins to spin, ease off the gas, and gently turn into the direction of the slide. This will stop the skid, whereas turning the steering wheel in the opposite direction will make it worse.
While both rain and snow do cause dangerous driving conditions, a cool head and a well-maintained car can help you stay safe this winter.
"Alex Healey is an insurance writer specializing in car insurance and personal finance. Alex’s mission is to create informative, just-in-time content for car owners and buyers. Alex has written articles for Jerry on topics ranging from hybrid vehicle rankings to used car costs. Before joining Jerry, Alex worked as a digital content specialist and editor for brands including InsuranceHotline.com, Rates.ca, and Booking.com. When not writing for Jerry, Alex continues to build his freelance digital content portfolio in the insurance and automotive industries. "