According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, approximately 17% of weather-related crashes are associated with snow and sleet. Driving in winter weather is challenging even for experienced drivers. Before you hit the pavement in snowy conditions, run through this quick list of things you should never do.

Forget to Equip Your Car

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Image via Flickr by Jason

Winter driving conditions are dramatically different from those you face in summer. Equip your car before the first snow so you’re not driving with a car that’s ill-prepared. Put all-weather or snow tires on your car and make sure they have a 4.8 millimeter deep tread. Check your fluid levels regularly, and make sure you’re using the right fluids for cold weather. A 5W30-weight oil is the best winter choice for most new cars, but your vehicle’s manual can give you more detailed information.

Assume You’re a Pro the First Time Out

If you’re a southerner who’s never seen snow, let alone driven in it, you should exercise extreme caution the first time you’re driving in these winter conditions. The same goes for new drivers who have just gotten a license. Find a safe empty parking lot to practice in, so you can safely learn your limits when it comes to things like turning and stopping on slick ice or deep snow.

Drive at Your Usual Speeds

You should always slow down when you’re driving in adverse weather conditions. Snowy roads are always more difficult to navigate, whether you’re dealing with a light dusting or a heavy layer of packed-down snow cover. Keep in mind that deep snow can conceal objects such as curbs or bumpers. Don’t assume you can pull through a space in the parking lot just because you don’t see a divider sticking out of the snow. Go slowly and exercise extreme caution.

Stay Close to Cars Around You

While you should never tailgate on the road to begin with, a habit of driving too close to those around you becomes twice as dangerous in winter weather. A good rule of thumb is to keep 4 car lengths of space between you and the next driver for every 10 mph of speed. Therefore, at a speed of 20 mph in a slow residential zone, you should maintain a distance of 8 car lengths.

React Only to What You See

Cold weather conditions present many hidden dangers on the road. Black ice is a virtually invisible patch of ice on the road that you won’t notice until you’re skidding across it. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, approximately 12 percent of weather-related crashes are caused by icy pavement. If you hit some ice and need to stop, don’t slam on the brakes. Apply steady pressure if you have ABS, or pump the brakes if you’re driving without it. You can’t stop quickly on ice, which is why you should have all those empty car lengths ahead of you.

No matter how careful you are on the road, you can never speak for the other drivers around you. Always prepare for the worst and stay focused on the road when winter weather strikes.