Safe winter driving tips for the holidays and beyond

Today is officially the first day of winter, and with the holidays fast approaching, many of us are likely to have wintry road expeditions affecting our holiday plans. Whether you’ll just be driving across town or your travel plan has more in common with Santa’s, driving in the winter can be dangerous.

Here are some safe driving tips for when the weather turns against you.

Vehicle preparation

The cold itself can cause some issues in your vehicle if not properly addressed. The cold air causes your tire’s air pressure to decrease, meaning you will need to check that they remain properly inflated. Consider switching to winter tires that are made to handle low temperatures and have as special tread compound to enhance grip.

Leaving your gas tank at around half full or less also runs the risk of causing freezes in the gas lines of your vehicle. Make sure to check your vehicle’s antifreeze, tire tread, and battery levels as well. The American Automobile Association (AAA) also lists the following tips and more on their website:

• Don’t mix radial tires with other tire types.
• Abstain from using the parking brake in wet or snowy weather.
• Never warm your vehicle within an enclosed area.

What to bring

The added dangers of winter weather demand extra safety precautions even for routine or mundane travel plans. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has published some guidelines for winter travel and list the following as winter travel essentials:

• Flashlight
• Jumper cables
• Abrasive material such as sand, kitty litter, or floor mats
• Shovel
• Snow brush and ice scraper
• Warning devices such as flares
• Blankets

They also care to note that for longer journeys, bringing your own food and water is strongly recommended. While it may seem obvious, a dependable means of contacting someone for help in the case of an emergency (such as a satellite phone) is highly recommended as well.

Driving in the snow

Driving in snowy or icy weather has its own set of pitfalls to look out for. The AAA again offers helpful some tips:

• Accelerate, decelerate, and turn slowly.
• Increase the following distance between you and other cars. Where you would normally allow two to four seconds, allow eight to ten.
• Know your brakes, whether or not they are anti-lock brakes, and how to apply them in the event of an emergency stop (pump the breaks if they are not anti-lock, hold them down if they are)
• Avoid fully stopping in favor of very slow coasting if you can help it.
• Simply stay home. Sometimes the dangers presented by the weather outweigh the need to go out. If it’s too dangerous, don’t drive.

Emergency tips

In the event that you find yourself in an emergency situation in extreme winter conditions, here are some important things to know:

• Always stay with your vehicle if you are stopped or stalled. You will be easier to find, less likely to get lost, and will conserve your energy.
• Mark your vehicle with flares or other brightly colored markings to ensure help can find you
• For emergency contacts, 911 and 511 (the traveler information phone number) are good to remember. Check the back of your driver’s license for a roadside assistance number.
• Never leave a child unattended in the vehicle
• Don’t run the engine for extended periods of time in an enclosed space or with the windows up in order to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

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