Stay safe driving in the winter

By Doug Williams
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Stay safe driving in the winter

Doug Williams
 
 
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There are quite a lot of issues to bear in mind before you bravely head out on a road trip in a winter wonderland. What can undoubtedly be exciting and romantic needs careful planning. As you plan, plot your route carefully – it is advisable to stick to main roads and not take the road less traveled when the weather is likely to become inclement.

Before you leave, tell someone exactly which route you plan to take and approximately when you expect to arrive at your destination. Allow for enough time; do not be in a hurry when you are driving in icy weather conditions as you should drive about 50% slower than you do when the roads are dry.

As important as it is that you can see where you are going, it is also vital that your vehicle is highly visible to all other road users.

  • Your lights must all be in good working order.
  • Check the condition of your windshield wipers.
  • Carry a snow shovel, brush, and scraper with you.

Car service

Get your car a winter service and keep it well maintained
Get your car a winter service and keep it well maintained

It is important to keep your car serviced and well-maintained at all times, but especially vital when you embark on a journey and even more so in icy conditions. A good mechanic will check the major details when servicing your car in readiness for a long road trip. However, here are some points you should ensure are attended to.

  • Heating and cooling systems
  • Exhaust system
  • Battery
  • All the lights (brakes, headlights, and indicators)
  • Hoses, belts, and fluid levels.

Tires

You will need a tread of 1/8 of an inch on winter tires. All-weather tires are not appropriate for the open road; chains may be necessary, or, better yet, studded tires (which are legal in some states but not in others). Remember, traction devices cause braking distances to be longer and shouldn’t be used in slippery conditions.

Keep the spare tire ready to use, and have with you the tools necessary to change a tire. Hopefully, this will not be needed as you have adequately prepared for your journey.

Driving in the snow

Learn how to safely drive in snow and icy conditions
Learn how to safely drive in snow and icy conditions

Learn how to use your ABS brakes correctly; if you have only standard brakes know how these work in the case of getting into a slide and the brakes locking.

Drive smoothly and patiently at all times, be in full control of the car. Cruise control devices are not recommended for driving in icy conditions. You need to keep a longer following distance as stopping tends to take longer on snow. Consistent driving speeds avoids losing momentum in the snow, and you are less likely to get stuck. You will also be able to brake predictably and in good time.

Wear your seatbelt and ensure your passengers do likewise – they can become uncontrolled flying objects in the case of a collision. Also, be mindful of places that are likely to freeze over, like bridge surfaces, dips, and areas where water is likely to collect.

At the filling stations along the way

  • It is advisable to keep your tank at least half full during the journey.  Fill up the gas tank regularly, use anti-freeze if necessary, and have plenty of windshield washer fluid on hand.
  • Check tire pressures. Cold weather affects tire pressures.
  • Check all other fluid levels at this time. Use winter-grade oil.
  • The other fluid you may want to consider re-filling is the hot water in your thermos.
  • Ask local people about what you can expect along the way; they will likely be well-informed about weather and road conditions.
  • Check the conditions on a reliable, up-to-date website as you travel.
  • Walk around a bit in the fresh air and do not continue if you feel too tired.  Driving, particularly in difficult conditions, will cause fatigue. Do not endanger yourself, your passengers, or other road users.

In the trunk

Make sure your vehicle has the right tires fitted
Make sure your vehicle has the right tires fitted

It is a good idea to be prepared for the unexpected and carry with you the following:

  • Tow Rope
  • Jump leads
  • Sand or cat litter (for traction, if your car gets stuck)
  • Flares
  • Can of lock de-icer (applying hot water can cause damage and make things worse)
  • Good quality flashlight (ensure the batteries are working and carry spares – cold weather drains batteries)
  • First aid kit with any medication you may need.

Also be sure to have enough warm clothing and blankets, and protect them from getting wet.

If you get stuck

  • In a bad storm or in the dark it is possible to take a wrong turn. Do not panic if you get stuck.
  • If you have a CB or marine radio, this may be useful, but keep your cell phone with you and keep it fully charged.
  • If you keep the car running be sure that the exhaust pipe is clear and be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning due to breathing exhaust fumes.
  • You will need some supplies with you to keep from dehydrating and to keep hunger pangs at bay. Hopefully, you will not be stranded for too long, but have brought enough along to keep you and your passengers sustained for at least one day.

What else to pack

Always have supplies just in case you get stranded
Always have supplies just in case you get stranded

Even though it is cold and you may not feel thirsty, have enough water along to keep you from dehydrating. You will need six bottles (16-fluid ounces each) of water for each adult man and four bottles each for an average woman per day.

Pack some high-calorie candy bars – these will give you energy but will not always feel satisfying and will become boring. It would be well to include a thermos filled with hearty soup or stew, some sandwiches, and fruit. Keep these in an insulated picnic carry box, not to keep them cool but to prevent them from freezing. You may want to include a pack of playing cards and a couple of books for entertainment if you get stranded.

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