Driving in winter

Cars remained stranded on New York’s Long Island as heavy snow fall rapidly covered the roads.
Cars in snow on New York’s Long Island
© bbc.co.uk

This year, spring appears to have completely forgotten about the place, where I live. Winter is everywhere including the roads. It is therefore of vital importance that we don’t forget about all those rules about safe driving during this time. Let me remind the key ones.

Note that in these days when sudden climate changes are something normal and people move very often you never know when you will find yourself in the situation when the below would be applicable. Therefore even if you are a happy citizen of hot Texas and the only snow you normally see is on television, I still recommend that you familiarize yourself with the guidelines outlined below.

Be prepared “winter is coming”

Hundreds of cars are seen stranded on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago after a winter blizzard.
Cars after a winter blizzard in Chicago
© Kiichiro Sato

First of all you should be prepared. The very worst that can happen is to be suddenly surprised by ‘sudden and unexpected’ winter attack. It is very seldom the case that it is really completely unexpected. Do spend some time monitoring the announcements (radio, television, Internet) from the National Weather Service. It can save you a lot of problems.

Prepare car for driving in winter

Secondly, the car should be prepared. Actually, it MUST be prepared. What does it mean in practice? A number of things: having all the key systems (like the radiator system) serviced or checked, clean windows, wintertime windshield-wiper fluid, proper air pressure in the tires, gas tank near full (this is to help avoid ice in the tank and/or fuel lines). We are all usually very busy, but skipping the above is not a good time saver at all. Just imagine how much time you may lose if you run into some issues due to lack of proper preparation.

Be ready with your Winter Survival Kit

Next, there is a long list of things that you just have to take with you. Note that some of that are not that obvious at first moment. The list is often called the Winter Survival Kit and comprises the following items:

• a mobile phone (It really can save your life.)
• first aid kit (which should contain bandages (non-adhesive ones, elastic and butterfly strips), gauze, medical tape, instant ice pack, tweezers, swabs, antibiotic ointment, and some pills for pain relief (e.g. with ibuprofen)). A first aid instruction book can also be very useful.
• a toolkit
• road maps
• a tow rope
• a flashlight (Don’t forget about spare batteries.)
• a windshield scraper
• booster cables
• a shovel (a collapsible one will do)
• some water and food
• blankets
• brightly colored cloth
• a compass
• something to put on ice or snow to improve traction when needed (e.g. sand)
• a pump or canned compressed air (to be able to fix a tire in emergency situation; obviously we should always be equipped with a spare tire as well)

Watch out more when you drive in winter or simply stay home

The next thing to remember about is that before going anywhere it is wise to notify someone from your family or friends about your plans. Should you then find yourself in troubles without the possibility of calling for help, they will be in position to raise the alarm.

Pay special attention to bridges and overpasses. During winter the surface of the road is usually colder there which results in worse traction. Finally, when possible avoid driving in heavy conditions. Really do. Ice or snow-covered roads and low-visibility are not your allies.

If you really had to drive somewhere in winter and now you have a trouble

Unfortunately, even if you follow all the precautionary guidelines, there is still some risk of running into issues. So what to do when we are surrounded by snow, the car is down, and you cannot expect any instant help? Let’s start with what not to do? Don’t panic. Remember that many people had found themselves in similar situation before. And they did survive. Why wouldn’t you?

When the weather is really bad don’t leave your car. It is probably the safest place. Remember that the most critical thing now is about the temperature. You should focus your actions and activities on conserving the warmth before the weather improves or help arrives. How to achieve it? One of the first and fundamental things is wrapping the entire body. You can use clothing as well as blankets or even newspapers. The next hint is about moving arms and legs. This is to improve circulation. The better circulation, the warmer you will be.

If you’re not alone take advantage of other people body’s warmth. Note that it has been successfully practiced across the whole history of the mankind. When it comes to using the motor and the heater, this is fine, but you need to be very careful about it. There is a risk of being poisoned by the carbon monoxide involved. Do not forget that this gas is a silent killer. You will neither see nor smell it. It is advisable to run it for about 10 minutes per hour. This should be followed by letting some fresh air in. Additionally you need to ensure that the exhaust pipe is not blocked with snow.

Car in snow storm on road
Car in snow storm on road

Contrary to what many people believe, eating the snow is not a good idea. It may help relieving your thirst a little bit yet it will also lower your body temperature.

Don’t forget about improving the chance of being noticed. As an example you can tie some colored (preferably red) material to your radio antenna.

And last but not least stay awake.

Having said all the above, I need to confess that although I personally prefer summer to winter, the latter can also be very nice. It just has to be treated with respect.

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