December Law of the Month: Safe winter driving
Release date: December 1, 2022
Winter weather is a regular part of life in Wisconsin and it can lead to dangerous conditions on the roads. It’s harder to control or stop a vehicle in snow, sleet, and ice. Last season, winter weather contributed to more than 15,000 crashes that killed 38 people in Wisconsin.
“We remind every driver to refresh your winter driving habits. Re-familiarize yourself with the way your vehicle reacts to slippery conditions,” Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent Tim Carnahan said. “Recognize that you must slow down and allow more time for your trips no matter how far you travel. Make sure your vehicle is prepared to make it through the winter months.”
Safe winter driving is Wisconsin State Patrol’s December Law of the Month, as a reminder of the important rules to follow that will protect all travelers this season.
State law requires drivers to travel at speeds that are reasonable and prudent for current conditions. Speed limits are set for when roads are clear and dry, so it may be too dangerous to drive at the posted speed limit in slippery conditions. Many winter crashes and slide offs are caused by drivers going too fast in hazardous conditions.
Snowplow drivers work long hours to clear nearly 115,000 miles of roads across Wisconsin, so it’s important for everyone to give them the space they need to get the job done.
When approaching a snowplow that’s clearing ice or snow, or laying salt or sand, state law requires drivers to stay at least:
- 200 feet back on a highway with a speed limit more than 35 miles per hour
- 75 feet back on a road with a slower speed limit
Road conditions ahead of a plow are likely worse, so drivers should use extra caution if passing a snowplow. Plow drivers have limited visibility and the vehicles often create a cloud of snow that can obscure visibility for all.
How to stay safe in winter
Drivers should always be prepared on every trip behind the wheel. If possible, stay off the roads during severe winter weather and wait until conditions improve. Staying home eliminates the risk of a crash and helps keep the roads clear for first responders and snowplow drivers.
The State Patrol recommends the following winter driving tips:
- If you must travel, check 511wi.gov for road conditions or incidents along your route.
- Snow means slow. Allow extra travel time, following distance, and reduce your speed during winter conditions.
- Don’t be overconfident in four-wheel or all-wheel-drive vehicles. All vehicles require additional time and distance to stop in adverse conditions.
- Avoid using cruise control in winter conditions.
- Buckle up and put your phone down while driving. Every trip, every time.
- Have a fully charged phone and an emergency kit in your vehicle.
- If you get stranded or slide off the road, stay buckled up in your vehicle and call for help. Getting out of the vehicle is very dangerous, especially in winter weather.
For more information, contact:
WisDOT Office of Public Affairs