Prepare for Winter Driving
The season for snow and ice, slipping and sliding, and traffic accidents is here. But you don’t have to be a victim of the leading cause of death during winter storms. You can reduce your risk of an accident by preparing your vehicle for the winter season, learning how to react if you are driving in slippery conditions, and knowing what to do if you are stranded or lost on the road. Here are some tips that can help.
Before the Winter Flurries
Have a mechanic check the following items in your car:
- Wipers and windshield washer fluid
- Ignition system
- Flashing hazard lights
- Exhaust system
- Oil level (if necessary, replace existing oil with a winter grade oil or the SAE 10w/30 weight variety)
Before You Hit the Road
Install Good Winter Tires
Make sure the tires have adequate tread. All-weather radials are usually adequate for most winter conditions. However, some areas require that vehicles be equipped with chains or snow tires with studs.
Prepare a Winter Car Kit to Keep in Your Car
- Windshield scraper and small broom for ice and snow removal
- Flashlights with extra batteries
- First aid kit with pocket knife
- Necessary medications
- Several blankets
- Matches and a lighter
- Extra set of mittens, socks, and a wool cap
- Small sack of sand for generating traction under wheels
- Small shovel
- Booster/jumper cables
- Brightly colored cloth to use as a flag
- Canned fruit and nuts (Choose ones with pull tabs or screw on caps.)
- Non-electric can opener
- Bottled water
Other Useful Items
- A cell phone to call for help
- Rain gear and extra clothes
- Small tools (pliers, wrench, screwdriver)
- Sleeping bags
- Extra newspapers for insulation
- Plastic bags (for sanitation)
- Set of tire chains or traction mats
- Cards, games, and puzzles
Other Helpful Hints
- Maintain at least a half tank of gas during the winter season.
- Give yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going.
- Plan long trips carefully. Listen to the radio or call the state highway patrol for the latest road conditions. Always travel during daylight and, if possible, take at least one other person.
- Dress warmly and wear layers of loose-fitting, layered, lightweight clothing.
- Carry a supply of high-energy snacks and several bottles of water.
- If you must go out during a winter storm, use public transportation.
- Contact your local emergency management office or American Red Cross chapter for more information on winter driving.
What to Do When Bad Weather Hits
Snow, Hail, and Rain
Heavy snow, hail, and rain reduce visibility. Slow down and use your headlights. When roads are icy or slushy, allow plenty of room to slow down and stop—at least three times the normal distance to reach a full stop and avoid skidding. In icy conditions, it can take ten times longer to stop than on a dry road. Avoid harsh braking and acceleration. To brake on ice or snow without locking your wheels, switch into low gear early and allow your vehicle to slow down before gently braking. If your vehicle starts to skid, ease off the accelerator, but don’t brake suddenly.
Fog drifts rapidly and is often patchy. Drive slowly and use your low beams. If visibility is really poor, use fog lights. You may have better visibility following the taillights of a vehicle in front of you, but don’t drive too close. Also, avoid accelerating too quickly when you reach a clearing. Fog tends to be patchy, causing you to quickly lose visibility.
If You Get Stuck
If you find yourself stuck in snow or ice, do not continue to spin your wheels. Instead, pour sand, salt, or gravel around the drive wheels. Also, shovel snow away from the wheels and out from under the car to clear a pathway.
Surviving a Blizzard
Stay in the Car
Do not leave the car to search for assistance unless help is visible within 100 yards. You may become disoriented and lost in blowing and drifting snow.
Display a Trouble Sign
Hang a brightly colored cloth on the radio antenna and raise the hood.
Occasionally Run Engine to Keep Warm
Turn on the car's engine for about 10 minutes each hour. Run the heater when the car is running. Also, turn on the car's dome light when the car is running. Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning. Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow, and open a downwind window slightly for ventilation.
Watch for Signs of Frostbite and Hypothermia
Do minor exercises to keep up circulation. Clap hands and move arms and legs occasionally. Try not to stay in one position for too long. If more than one person is in the car, take turns sleeping.
For warmth, huddle together. Use newspapers, maps, and even the removable car mats for added insulation.
Cold weather puts an added strain on the heart. Unaccustomed exercise, such as shoveling snow or pushing a car, can bring on a heart attack or make other medical conditions worse. Be aware of symptoms of dehydration.
Canada Safety Council
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Fact sheet: winter driving. Federal Emergency Management Agency website. Available at: http://www.fema.gov. Accessed January 16, 2006.
Oklahoma State University website. Available at: http://www.okstate.edu/.
University of Maine Cooperative Extension website. Available at: http://www.umext.maine.edu/.
Last reviewed July 2007 by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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