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Winter Driving Safety: Tips & Toolkit

With the winter’s arrival, knowing how to drive safely on ice or with snow requires drivers to be better prepared than perhaps they need to be at any other time of year.

With that goal in mind, I have included some common sense safe winter driving tips that you should consider adopting.

1. You should always ensure that your vehicle has, if not a 
full tank of gas, at least half a tank of gas at all times. The same thing goes for windshield washer fluid should always be full to its capacity when possible. 

2. You should proactively store a winter hazard kit in your vehicle if ever have the misfortune of being stuck on the highway or in the snowbank. 

3. You should always check your tire pressure before the snow flies, as a drop in weather temperature will result in a loss of pressure. In most instances, you will have to add air to your tires to ensure proper traction on snow and ice. Having an air compressor on board is a convenient way to maintain good tire pressure at all times.

4. Regardless of the model, year, or make your vehicle, it should come with basics such as a tire iron and jack, but those two items alone will not cut it. If you end up with a dead battery or a car that is stuck in the snow, you will want a few other things to help you out. 

5. A snow and ice scraper is easily the most used tool for drivers during the winter. Keeping one handy will allow you to efficiently clear off your windows and lights before driving.

6. The next essential item would be a snow shovel in the trunk of your vehicle. If you have ever had to dig your vehicle out after a snowstorm, or gotten stuck along a snow-covered road, you know how convenient it is to keep one in your vehicle.

7. A dead battery is one of the most common issues, so jumper cables are a necessity. Whether you accidentally left your lights on, or cold weather has drained your battery, jumper cables will bring your vehicle back to life.

8. Keeping a flashlight in your car year-round is a good idea, but with less daylight during the winter, it can be especially useful. Your mobile phone may have a flashlight app on it, but it is not as valuable as a real flashlight and will drain your phone’s battery very quickly, preventing you from connecting. Whether changing a tire or jumping your car, you want a flashlight that shines bright and is durable.

9. Running out of gas can be a major headache at any time of the year, but it is definitely worse in winter. You do not want to store fuel in your trunk, but keeping a small gas container in your car can save you from a tow. Just walk to the nearest gas station, and this more than 1-gallon tank will give you enough gas to drive to safety.

10. You never know when you will need a first aid kit, so keeping a small one in your car is always a smart idea as well.

11. Even if you are not a mechanic, you should consider having a basic tool kit that can save the day when a simple fix needs to be done. Basic items such as a wrench, sockets, Allen keys, pliers, a screwdriver, and zip ties can be very helpful.

12. As funny as it sounds, having a bag of cat litter (!) may be one of the most useful items to have. Have you ever been stuck in the snow, and your tires keep on spinning and spinning, no matter how much gas you give it? Spread the cat litter underneath the tires without traction, and you will be able to drive away from the slippery snow and ice. Whether you own a cat or not, cat litter should be part of your hazard kit!

13. Being stranded is not exactly fun at any time of year, but during the winter, it is more than a huge inconvenience. Going from driving in a warm vehicle with heat, to losing power and breaking down is not never a good feeling. If you do have to stay inside your car for a few hours or even overnight, you are going to need a blanket to keep warm. You do not need a full comforter set, but a fleece blanket is warm and will not take up too much trunk space.

14. Now that we are all equipped let us move on to what you do before starting your journey. You should always check the road conditions. Check your local, provincial, and or state transportation websites for weather and road conditions where you will be traveling.

15. Take into account the extra time it will take you to reach your destination, or even consider delaying your trip if the weather is bad enough. 

16. You also need to be aware that the posted speed limit is for dry pavement. You should avoid using your cruise control during the winter to ensure that you maintain optimum control over the speed of your vehicle, and to be able to adjust to driving conditions quickly. 

17. Always use three points of contact to get into and out of your vehicle to not be a slip, trip, and fall victim.

18. You should also buckle up your seatbelt every time you get into the vehicle. 

19. Take the time to clear all snow and ice from your vehicle, including the hood and roof, all windows and lights before driving to make sure you can see and be seen and that your defroster can work properly. 

20. Always use low-beam headlights even when driving your vehicle during the day. They are brighter than daytime running lights and will activate the taillights making the vehicle more visible from the rear as well. 

21. Lengthen your following distance. It takes more time to stop in adverse conditions. Break early and do not firmly apply the brakes as that can quickly put you into a skid. 

Even roads that appear clear can have sudden slippery spots, and the short touch of your brakes to disable cruise control can cause you to lose control of your vehicle. 

22. If your vehicle begins to skid, turn into the skid, and gently tap the brakes to try to bring the vehicle under control. Always stare into the direction you want your vehicle to go, and by default, your hands will turn the steering wheel in the appropriate direction to stay on the highway.

If the vehicle is equipped with anti-lock brakes, apply steady pressure to avoid skidding. 

23. Be aware that bridge surfaces may be icy even when the rest of the pavement is in good condition. Cold air and damp weather will cause bridges and bridge decks to ice up quickly under the right circumstances.

24. Always signal your intentions to change lanes or merge into another lane well in advance so that you can safely make that switch. A sudden switch of lanes can easily cause your vehicle to skid out of control. 

25. Look further ahead in traffic so that you can see and react to problems appropriately before they become an unavoidable hazard. Actions by other drivers will alert you quicker to problems, and give you the extra time needed to react safely. 

26. Always keep a safe distance between your vehicle and snowplows. Be aware that a snowplow clearing a highway can create a cloud of snow that may limit visibility. A plow may also throw ice, rocks, or salt. Never attempt to pass a snowplow unless it is safe to do so, and never on the right-hand side. 

27. If you are stuck in snow:

– Do not panic or overexert yourself, trying to get the vehicle out. Turn on your four-way hazard lights, set up flares to the front and back of the vehicle, and put a brightly colored cloth on the antenna.

– Stay with the vehicle unless you can see help within about 100 yards. 

– Watch for traffic, early responders, or emergency personnel that will render assistance. 

– Turn your motor on approximately every 10 minutes so that your windshield remains visible. Occasionally open your driver’s side window slightly so that you do not get carbon monoxide poisoning. 

– Make sure the exhaust pipe is free of snow.

– Bundle up for warmth by putting on all the clothing that you have stored in your vehicle.

– Continually monitor for frostbite, hypothermia until you are safely back on your journey!