Hitting the road during winter months takes on a sense of seriousness that other seasons don’t carry. Snow and ice present multiple dangers and drivers need to be prepared before they roll out onto the highways and byways. Being prepared with an emergency kit and knowledge can help you avoid a tragedy. A well-thought-out winter vehicle kit includes the following items:
First-aid kit: A preassembled first-aid kit is a good option. AdventureMedicalKits.com has a variety of kits from which to choose. It is important to keep any prescription medications in there as well. Be aware of the expiration dates and rotate them as needed.
Extra warm clothes: Pack extra cold-weather gear including boots in the event you need to walk away from your vehicle.
Emergency rations: MRE-style meals can be a good choice for emergency food. They are easy to store and are a great source for obtaining the needed calories.
Stay hydrated: Water may seem an odd item to list during snow season, but it is critical. If stuck in a rural area, you may be without help for some time. Experts warn to stay away from eating snow because it will lower your body temperature.
Shovel: A folding military-style shovel fits well in a trunk and can be an essential tool. If you end up stuck in the snow, a shovel can be crucial in getting you free.
Flashlight: A well-made reliable flashlight like the SureFire G2 is a must-have during all seasons. The unfortunate fact is that many of our accidents and issues happen in the dark. Without light you are truly stuck.
Ice-melt pellets: A reasonably sized bag of ice-melt pellets or salt can be a great help when ice has immobilized you. An alternative that also works well is cat litter. These items will allow your tires to once again get a grip and get you moving.
Tire chains: Many areas around the country require that you have chains on your tires before driving in certain areas. Even if not posted, you should have chains ready for your tires in case the weather turns bad.
Backup phone charger: This is a common item now and takes up very little space. If you are stranded, the ability to communicate is critical. A dead cell phone battery is not only a problem, it is now avoidable.
5 WINTER DRIVING KEYS
As we navigate our way towards our destination, we need to remember to adjust our driving techniques to match the weather. Slick roads and poor visibility demand you adjust or suffer the consequences. Some sage words on winter driving include these foolproof suggestions:
1. Adjust your speed to road conditions. If there is even the slightest chance of ice being present, you should slow down.
2. Give yourself extra room. This applies to stopping as well as the distance you keep between yourself and other vehicles.
3. Be cautious while driving on overpasses and bridges. These areas will ice over long before other areas of the road.
4. Clear your entire windshield. The small 6-by-6-inch porthole you quickly scraped directly in front of the steering wheel will not allow you enough field of view to see dangers. Take the time to scrape it all off.
5. Don’t pass snowplows. For an explanation of why we will look at a statement from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, “Snowplows have wing plow blades that can extend anywhere between 2 and 10 feet beyond the width of the truck. This wing plow blade is often not seen because of the snow cloud being kicked up by the snowplow. These wing plows can often weigh as much as a compact car.”
STAY ON THE ROAD
In the event that you spin on the ice, it is important to stay calm and avoid slamming on the brakes. Many cars are fitted with ABS (anti-lock brakes) and they do not work well on ice. They will often lock up on ice regardless of their make or design.
MAINTAIN CONTROL: If your wheels are locked and sliding, it will be difficult to regain control. Also, turn into the direction of the slide. Do so gently and with control; over-steering will simply start you spinning in the opposite direction. Once you have stopped the slide, make sure you are clear of danger and get back on your way. If you are stuck and unable to move, call for help and get back into your vehicle if it is safe to do so. Make sure the exhaust pipe is clear of snow and run the car sparingly in order to save fuel. An obstructed exhaust pipe can lead to carbon-monoxide buildup inside the car, which can be lethal.
SAFE EXIT: In the event that you collide with an object, once again try to stay calm. Wait until any other vehicles have stopped around you before exiting your car. Evaluate the damage and call for help if necessary. If you end up flipped over in your vehicle, orient yourself then slowly release your seatbelt and exit the vehicle. This is a scenario where a seatbelt cutter/window-breaking tool is handy. These devices allow you to safely cut through a seat belt and to break car glass if needed, allowing you to escape.
PREP TO SURVIVE: Lastly, we need to mention that prevention is key. By taking care to winterize your vehicle, you can avoid a majority of the winter frustrations that people have. These include checking your tires for sufficient tread, managing your oil changes to reflect current temperatures, testing your battery and making certain your anti-freeze is at a 50/50 mix to avoid a frozen radiator. Preparation and education are the two words to remember when facing winter roads. Take your time and be extra aware. This will help avoid dangers and get you safely to your destination.
This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE ™ Spring 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.