Winter in North America is no joke, and it presents a host of challenges. One of such challenges is driving by car, and in many instances, it turned out to have a lethal outcome for unprepared people.
Driving your car during the winter months exposes you to the risk of sliding off an icy road and bending your car. Even minor accidents can become life-threatening if you’re anywhere off the beaten path.
However, those that have some common sense and packed a few simple supplies can be ready for anything the icy season might have in store.
Avoid getting stuck
One of the first things any driver should pay attention to is not getting stuck in the first place. For most people, getting stuck in snow or ice may be annoying at most, but for others, it can also be life-threatening. Your best course of action would be to avoid the whole scenario in the first place.
If you need to take long drives during the winter months, there are a few winter driving tips you need to learn:
Tell someone where you plan to go
You can email or call your loved ones or perhaps other relatives and tell them where you’re going, how long you estimate it will take you to get there, and what they should do in case you’re not there by some reasonable amount of time.
Purchase proper tires for the season
Every driver should be certain their vehicle’s tires are ready to handle the road ahead. You should get a spare set of wheels and a set of snow tires, and make sure you test them for handling the roads where you need to go. Another option would be to get a set of chains, but remember that these are kind of hard to install and difficult to drive on.
Use only maintained roads
A lot of winter disappearances occur because folks decide to take a shortcut or they pick a negligible road that doesn’t get plowed. If you decide to do the same, keep in mind that such roads will take you into rough terrain, and you will be far away from any available assistance.
Know when to call it quits
Most drivers use their 4WD and AWD vehicles to push their limits, but they don’t know when to bail out. Such vehicles can get you far enough, and that’s just far enough to find yourself out of luck. When your vehicle can’t get you any further, chances are you’ve gone far enough to be able and return to the main road. The first time you start having doubts about the route and your vehicle’s capability, that’s the right time to turn around.
Your kit can be as simple or as complex as you want it, but keep in mind to include items that can get you unstuck. Keep the basic items of traction on hand at all times, even if it’s just a set of chains or a bag of sand.
Don’t drive too fast
Some drivers never slow down, and they don’t give a rat’s ass about the weather or the season. These irresponsible drivers believe their AWD or 4WD vehicles will do all the job, but it’s also a matter of skills. For example, AWD provides almost no assistance at all when it comes to shopping, so if you go into a corner too fast, chances are you will get off the road in a second. Tale it slow since it’s better to get where you’re going in one piece.
Learn to steer out of a skid
If your car starts to slide, rather than looking at the ditch or the tree, look down the road in the direction you want to go. Physics laws always have the last word, and it may not work every time, but it works often enough.
Putting together a winter safety kit
Some folks will buy a safety kit, while others prefer to make their own. Your kit should contain items to help you get unstuck and rescued, but also items to help you stay alive until help arrives.
Items to get unstuck and rescued
Traction pads – A traction pad is a piece of foldable, ribbed plastic plate, and it needs to be placed under the tire to help you get some grip. You should get at least a pair. Some folks will improvise some from various materials, and if you want to do the same, make sure you use something that can be placed between the ice/snow and the tires and provides good traction to get you going.
Bag of sand – Sand can turn an icy surface into a drivable one, so keeping a bag of ordinary playground sand can come in handy.
Tow Strap – Get a tow strap and keep it in your safety winter kit until you need it. Don’t use rope or bungee cord since these are usually not strong enough.
Entrenchment tool – You can find at a local military surplus store a folding shovel with a pick end. This compact tool is much better for your kit than the lightweight or camp shovels you find at home supply stores.
Spare tire – Snow and ice hide a variety of road hazards that can puncture your tires. Having a winter spare tire will save you a lot of headaches, and experienced winter drivers from extreme climates usually carry two spares to avoid potential problems.
Reflective triangles – These can be used to warn other drivers about your presence, and they need to be placed far enough so that other drivers have time to slow down. Most experienced drivers expect to see your car stuck or broken on the same side of the road where the reflective triangles were placed, so keep this in mind. Also, a reflective triangle can be put on the roof of your car so that you’ve seen from the air if your car gets snowed in.
Road flares – Road flares are great to warn others about your presence, regardless of whether the rescue teams travel by land or air. Classical road flares can also be used to start a fire in case needed. Electrical ones, not so much.
Items to keep you alive
Food – Bring anything that can be eaten as is without the need to be warmed or cooked. Protein bars, trail mix, jerky, and other such foods are ideal for your kit because they have a long shelf life and they provide good nutrition.
Stuff to keep you warm – Mylar blankets, an extra set of clothing, a sleeping bag, and many other options should be considered for your safety kit since these can hold in body heat well. You can also get some heating packets, and don’t forget a pair of warm gloves, a hat, and a parka since chances are you will be working outside to unstuck your car or signal for help.
First aid – Keep a good first aid kit on hand, and don’t forget to include in it any type of medication you’re required to take daily.
Fire extinguisher – Any car should have a fire extinguisher, and it’s always a good idea to carry one. If you get stuck off the road, the risk of having to deal with a fire can increase.
Carbon monoxide detector – Having a passive monoxide detector can be a good idea since many people will keep their engines running to get warm. This may sometimes lead to a tragic outcome, so keep one or two detectors in your kit and open them once you get stuck in the snow.
Additional items to consider
Extra fuel – Depending on your region, there could be miles between your town and the next service station. Take every opportunity to keep your tank full and always keep a spare can of fuel in the truck or on the roof of your car. Don’t store the fuel inside the car because it is both a fire hazard and a health risk.
Satellite phone – Up in the Arctic, those traveling far away from civilization usually have a satellite phone to call for help when they end up in trouble. If you’re heady far away from the nearest town, maybe such a phone is also a good idea for your situation.
Personal locator beacon – These come in all sizes and have various functions. The simplest one will send a basic radio signal that can be intercepted by rescue teams and find your location much easier. A personal locater beacon is recommended if you travel to remote areas.
What to do if you get stuck?
Even with the best preparations, getting stuck happens, and you may one day find yourself in a ditch even if you did everything right. Those living in the backcountry usually equip their cars with winches, cables, and more so they can pull themselves free without waiting for someone to give them a helping hand.
For the rest of the people, getting stuck means waiting for help. Here are some survival guidelines you should put into practice when you get stuck.
If possible, stay with your vehicle – Your car remains the best shelter for the most part. It can keep you safe and warm long enough until people start looking for you. If you have an extra can of fuel, your car can stay warm and dry for days. Even when the engine is no longer running, the car is insulated and can keep you warm. Also, it’s much easier to spot a car in the snow compared to a person.
Evaluate the damage to your car – If you crashed your car, ignore damage such as scratched paint or bent sheet metal. Instead, figure out if the exhaust pipe was crushed and check the fuel tank and fuel lines to make sure there’s no leaking. If you do smell gasoline, chances are your car is no longer a safe space. Also, if the radiator or cooling system was punctured, turning the engine for long won’t be possible, and you won’t be able to heat the cabin.
Evaluate the area around you – Establish if you’re in an impact area or not. For example, if you crash while going around a curve, there are high chances that the next coming car will plow right into your vehicle. Be smart about it and place flares and the reflective triangles around the corner on the same side of the road where your vehicle is stuck.
Turn off the AC – The air conditioning will use energy and will drain your fuel faster. Honk the horn every now and then during daylight hours and try to leave the lights on at night for others to spot you faster.
Keep the intake and exhaust areas clean – You will need to keep the cabin air intake, engine air intake, and engine exhaust free of snow, ice, and any other obstruction so the car (and you) can breathe.
Avoid asphyxiation – If the exhaust is leaking under the car or around the engine bay, it can get into the cabin air intake. You will have to open a window to get fresh air in. In case you feel a dull headache, dizziness, or general weakness, turn off the car and get out to get fresh air. Symptoms of asphyxiation also include nausea and vomiting, confusion, blurred vision, shortness of breath, and fainting. Keep an eye out for these symptoms and expose yourself or those traveling with you to fresh air immediately.
Doing some advance planning, keeping a clear mind, and taking the necessary steps to learn how to drive during the winter minds will help keep you and your loved ones safe. You need to improve your chances of survival in such situations, and it all starts with your mindset. Don’t assume something like this can’t happen to you, and always be prepared.
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