Staying Safe on Winter Roads

Published on Thu, 11/20/2014 - 1:17pm

In addition to the basic safe driving habits we practice all year long— buckling up, driving alert and sober, and driving at a safe and legal speed—there are special precautions that need to be followed during the winter months.


Make sure your car is ready for winter

Throughout the winter, keep your gas tank at least half-full to avoid frozen gas lines. Have your vehicle serviced by a qualified mechanic to make sure that the brakes, battery, exhaust, cooling system, headlights, fluids, and windshield wipers and washers are all ready to go. Avoid traveling—particularly alone—if severe weather is threatening. Before leaving on your trip, inform someone at your destination of your planned route and expected arrival time.

Snow, the unwelcomed passenger

Be sure to brush all of the snow off of your vehicle before starting out. Snow left on the hood can blow into the front vent and cause defrosting problems, or it can melt and re-freeze on the windshield. Snow on the roof can cover your rear window, while white stuff on the trunk can blow onto your taillights. Remember to clean off your headlights and taillights so other motorists can see you.

Emergency Measures

If you find yourself stranded, stay calm and stay put. Staying in your car will decrease your risk of frostbite or hypothermia as well as increase your chances of being rescued. Run your engine for heat about once an hour— once every half-hour in extreme cold. Make sure your exhaust pipe is clear to prevent carbon monoxide from entering the car and leave a window slightly open. Tie a piece of brightly colored cloth to your antenna to alert others and aid rescuers. Limit your sleep to short naps. Consider taking a cell phone with you for use during emergencies. On long trips, be sure the battery is fully charged and consider bringing a spare. Keep the phone and batteries warm to avoid quick power drain—try keeping them in a pocket. Winter driving requires your undivided attention, so if you need to make a call, find somewhere safe to pull over and don’t get back on the road until you hang up.

Stock your car with basic winter driving equipment

Items such as a scraper and brush, small shovel, jumper cables, tow chain and a bag of sand or cat litter for traction are invaluable for wintertime travel. Don’t forget items such as road flares, a blanket, and a flashlight with batteries to cover small emergencies. For larger emergencies, be sure to keep the following survival kit in your car throughout the season:

Metal bucket or coffee can to melt snow
A small candle with matches or a disposable lighter
Brightly colored square of cloth such as a bandanna
Basic first aid kit
Large plastic garbage bags that can be used to
insulate feet, legs and torso
High-energy, non-perishable foods

Modify your driving for the season

Adjust your speed to road conditions and increase following distance. Remember that bridges and overpasses can be slippery even if the roadway is otherwise clear. If you begin to skid, keep calm, ease your foot off the gas, and turn your wheels in the direction you want the front of the car to go. If you have an anti-lock braking system (ABS) apply firm, steady pressure to the brake pedal. Never pump ABS brakes.