Safe Winter Driving Calls for Preparation

Whether you’re travelling on vacation or just commuting to work, driving in the winter requires preparation and caution. You and your car need to be ready to deal with the challenges you might face.

Emergency supplies, ample water and food will go a long way toward keeping a winter trip from turning into more of an adventure than you’re looking for. If your car needs regular service, have the work performed before hitting the road.

The battery, charging and cooling systems should be functioning normally. Whether you have all-season or snow tires, they need to be in good condition and properly inflated. Pressures drop in cold weather, so check your car tires often. Lights, wipers, defroster should all be working properly.

When it comes to the actual driving, experts offer several tips for preventing an incident.

  • Slow down in snow conditions, cutting speed in half and increasing following distance from three seconds to 10 seconds.
  • Don’t go too slow. Momentum is your friend and it’s a lot easier pick up speed while rolling than start from a dead stop.
  • Smooth inputs are the way to keep control in slippery conditions.
  • Know how to recover from a skid. The key is to steer the vehicle gently toward the direction you want to go and stay off the brakes. If you can find an empty parking lot, practicing the technique is worth a lot more than reading the instructions.
  • Use your headlights.
  • Keep your gas tank more than half full.
  • Do not use cruise control.
  • Carry tire chains and know how to put them on before you need to do it in the dark with a foot of snow on the ground.

If you get stuck in the snow, it is far safer to stay put. Your vehicle provides shelter, makes it easier for you to be found and emergency provisions will minimize the risk of hypothermia or frostbite. Setting out on foot, especially in a storm, is dangerous.

Blowing snow can make it difficult to find your vehicle if you turn back, and without wilderness experience, proper equipment and provisions the risk of injury, hypothermia or frostbite is much higher. Tie brightly colored cloth to the antenna or hang it from the top of a rolled up window to signal distress. At night, flares or battery-powered emergency lights will make it easier for rescuers to find you. Running the interior dome light takes very little electricity and can also help searchers locate your car.

Run the engine periodically and use the heater to prevent the interior from becoming too cold. Keep your windows clear of snow and make sure snow, ice or mud are not blocking the exhaust pipe, which could cause deadly carbon monoxide to leak in to the passenger compartment. Eat small meals frequently and drink plenty of water. Cold, dry air causes dehydration more quickly.