Safe Practices for Winter Weather Driving and Commuting

During periods of foul weather and hazardous road conditions, the Office of Research Services, Division of Amenities and Transportation Services, the Division of Police and the Office of Research Facilities would like to remind everyone of the following safe practices for driving during inclement winter weather.

Slow down...Reducing your speed is the single most important approach you can employ to prevent an accident. Posted speed limits are for dry roads. Half the limit or even less may be necessary to remain safe. Do not be intimidated by other drivers into traveling at a higher speed than you feel is safe. 

Maintaining a safe following distance...between your vehicle and vehicles in front of you is the second most prudent approach you can take to reduce accidents. With ice and snow covered roads, at least three times the normal following distance may be needed.   

Consider using lower gears...when navigating inclines and at other times to increase traction in snow.

If your vehicle begins sliding...take your foot off the gas and DO NOT immediately touch the brake. Steer the front of your vehicle into the skid (the same direction you are sliding). This technique is used in both front- and rear-wheel-drive vehicles. If you must use the brakes, do not allow them to lock up; gently pump the brake pedal, unless your car is equipped with anti-lock brakes. If your car has anti-lock brakes, use a firm, steady pressure WITHOUT pumping. The grinding noise you hear and the surge you feel in the pedal is normal and indicates the brakes are working properly, allowing you to continue to steer and control the vehicle.

Allow more space...than usual in front when stopping in traffic. Be aware of cars approaching from behind that begin to slide. The extra distance may allow you to maneuver forward and avoid a collision.

Elevated surfaces including ramps, bridges and the top levels of NIH parking garages, freeze first...and stay frozen after other surfaces have become dry.
Many people get into trouble by assuming the roads will not be slippery unless the temperature is at freezing or below. Ice can form on road surfaces anytime the air temperature drops to 40 degrees or less, especially when it is windy.

'Black ice'...can form anywhere - elevated surfaces, low or shaded areas, and areas surrounded by landscaping. Early morning hours are especially dangerous as moisture has had an opportunity to sit on the cold pavement and freeze. At 30 degrees, ice is twice as slippery as it is at 0 degrees. If you hit an unexpected patch, don’t try to brake, accelerate or downshift. Let up on your accelerator and let your vehicle ‘roll’ through the slippery area.

Stay clear of snowplows and sanders...Slow down. Plows and sanders will pull over periodically to let traffic pass. It’s risky to pass on the left of a snowplow because of blowing snow. Never pass on the right. Flying rocks can damage your car if you pass a sander. The best advice is to stay three car lengths behind plows and sanders.

Vision...Take the time to clear all windows of snow, ice or fog before starting out. Also clear snow off the hood, roof and trunk as chunks can break loose when driving and violently strike cars behind you.

Lights...Even though you can see, drive with low-beam headlights on during any precipitation. Maryland law requires the use of headlights whenever windshield wipers are in use. Dirty headlights can cut visibility by 50 percent or more.

Wear proper footwear...Too many pedestrians fall because they're wearing leather-soled shoes without proper traction. Soft rubber is much safer when traversing icy sidewalks and parking lots. Refrain from walking between parked cars in icy parking lots. Ice melts much slower in these shady conditions.

Report a Hazardous NIH Roadway/Sidewalk --- Use the ORF Maintenance Line:

The Office of Research Facilities (ORF) handles all snow removal and other services related to road conditions on the NIH main campus. In inclement weather, ORF monitors weather reports, attempts to pre-treat roadways and pathways prior to a storm, and removes snow and ice during and after a storm.
In the event a roadway, sidewalk or other surface on the main campus remains hazardous after road crews have already visited the area, please report the problem using the ORF Maintenance Line by calling 301-435-8000 or entering a report at

Current information on Maryland roadway conditions can be accessed via the following link:

For questions regarding this message, please contact the ORS Information Line at or 301-594-6677. TTY is available at 301-435-1908.
Please tune your radios to 1660 AM for NIH traffic, parking and perimeter security advisories.