Travel is a big part of the holiday season. There are a lot more people on the road than usual. Add in unexpected winter weather and it’s a recipe for car accidents. Make sure you and your family are safe this winter with these seven tips for driving in hazardous winter conditions.
1. Create a Winter Car Emergency Kit
You should pack a special emergency kit anytime you hit the road for a long drive. Your everyday emergency kit should include a tire changing kit, tool kit, flashlights with extra batteries and first aid kit. You’ll also want to have plenty of water and some nutritious snacks, like trail mix or low-sugar energy bars, on hand in case you’re stuck along the road for a while.
Your winter emergency car kit should also have extra clothes and blankets to help keep you warm in an emergency. Pack an extra coat, gloves, socks and hats in case you need to add layers for warmth. You can also put air-activated hand and foot warmers in your emergency kit for quick, portable heat. In addition to warm clothing, consider packing a small, foldable shovel and tow straps to help you free your vehicle if it becomes stuck in the snow.
2. Never Leave Your Car Running in an Enclosed Space
Wintertime can lead to nasty weather. Even if you live in a warmer climate, the winter can bring cold, rainy days. On days when the temperature drops and the weather is bad, it could be tempting to start your car in the garage and let it warm up. You should never give in to the temptation to run your car in an enclosed area.
As your car burns fuel to warm up the interior, the exhaust pipe is pumping out carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is poisonous and undetectable to the human senses. In an enclosed space, such as your garage, the gas can build up and cause potentially fatal health risks to you and your family.
3. Avoid Driving in Bad Weather
If driving in winter weather conditions is avoidable, don’t get in the car. Regularly check the weather forecast before your trip to monitor the current outlook. Consider postponing your departure or return dates to avoid bad storms or weather cycles. If you must drive on a certain day, check the forecast and try to leave earlier or later to miss the worst parts of the storm. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination so you aren’t in a rush when bad weather hits.
4. Have Your Car Inspected Beforehand
Following proper car maintenance is important year-round. In addition to regular maintenance, you should have your car inspected by your favorite repair shop before you make any long drives. This gives your mechanic a chance to look at your vehicle's fluid levels and internal systems to check for problems that could affect you on the road.
Make sure you ask the shop to check your brakes and tires for optimal performance. If an issue if found, get repairs completed right away so your car is safe for the holiday season.
5. Know How to Handle Winter Roads
Winter weather tends to lead to slick road surfaces. Even in a mild climate, you may experience a lot of rain during the winter months. Freeze-thaw cycles can also lead to dangers on the road, such as increased cracking potholes. Be prepared for these hazards by knowing how to handle slick road conditions.
- Practice defensive driving and avoid distracted driving.
- Don’t use cruise control on ice or other slippery surfaces.
- Drive slower than usual.
- Increase your stopping and following distances from 3-4 seconds to 5-6 seconds.
- Don’t make a complete stop unless necessary, as it’s more difficult to start moving again on a slick surface than to continue rolling.
- Speed up slowly, allowing your vehicle the chance to gain traction on slick surfaces.
- Coast up slick hills by building a little bit of inertia coming into the hill so you don’t have to apply extra power to get up the hill.
6. Purchase Snow Tires or Snow Chains
If you plan to spend a lot of time in areas with heavy winter weather like snow, consider purchasing snow tires or tire chains. Snow tires might seem expensive, but they generally last longer than an all-season tire because you’re only using them a few months out of the year. Many snow tires feature metal studs that work as cleats to dig into snow and ice, giving you traction.
For occasional trips into heavy snow areas, like a quick holiday ski trip, you may want to invest in a set of snow chains. Some roadways even require you to carry or install snow chains in certain weather conditions. Snow chains are a bit like a metal netting that fits over your tires to give them traction in ice and snow. The links of the chains grab onto snow and ice better than the treads of your tires to increase your traction. Remember to remove your snow chains as soon as you reach a road with exposed pavement to avoid damaging the roadway. It’s better to be safe and purchase snow chains in the chance that you may need them. If you end up not having to use them, some stores may allow you to return unopened snow chains.
7. Know What to Do if You Get Stranded
No matter how much you prepare for your holiday road trip, there’s the chance something could go wrong. Knowing what to do if you become stranded in cold and wintery weather could help you stay safe on your road trip. If you find yourself stuck along the road in a snowstorm or other winter weather, follow these rules:
- Don’t try to walk to find help unless it’s clearly visible from your vehicle such as a gas station a few hundred feet away. Whirling snow and fog can blur your vision and make it difficult to find your way. You could get turned around and wind up further from your car, and help, than if you stay put.
- Send signals alerting others that you need help. This could mean tying a brightly-colored piece of clothing or fabric to the antenna of your vehicle, turning on your hazard lights or putting out a bright orange marker near the roadway.
- Keep the car turned off and use your emergency blankets and clothing to stay warm to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Turn the car on for a few minutes once an hour to bring down the chill. Always clear the tailpipe of snow, ice or other debris before running the car.
- Contact roadside assistance to get the help you need in removing your car from the ditch or towing it to the nearest repair facility.
Be prepared this winter by following these seven winter driving trips on your next holiday road trip. If you don’t have roadside assistance through your auto insurance, consider adding it to help you if you experience a breakdown or accident on your next holiday drive.