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Winter – the snow on the trees, the warmth of a cozy fire and family… and the black ice and other hazards of driving during the season. Driving always carries with it a risk, but in the winter, that risk increases exponentially. To keep yourself and your family safe on the roads this winter, the National Safety Council recommends some tips and tasks you should perform before hitting the roads.

Check the weather before you leave, often.

If you choose to warm up your vehicle before you leave, make sure to move it out of the garage first. Idling a vehicle in an enclosed space, like a garage, could cause carbon monoxide poisoning. If it looks to be a really bad blower of a storm, consider waiting it out instead of driving in a blizzard. If you become stranded, even in a familiar area, do not leave your car. Turn on your hazard lights or set out flares in front and behind the vehicle, and ensure the exhaust is not blocked by snow, mud, or any kind of object.

Check your vehicle over before hitting the road.

It is important to ensure all your vehicle’s systems are fully functional and in good repair before driving in dangerous winter weather. Have a mechanic inspect and repair your:

  • Ignition
  • Brakes
  • Wiring
  • Hoses and fan belts
  • Spark plugs
  • Air, fuel, and emissions filters, and PCV valve
  • Distributor
  • Battery
  • Tire wear and air pressure
  • Antifreeze level and freeze line

Avoid a crash

You may have done all you can to drive safely and have a safe vehicle, but sometimes, the ice or water on the roads can sneak up on even the best drivers. There are some things you can do in a skid to minimize your chances of a severe crash, and there are some things you can do to increase your chances of driving safely at all times in inclement weather.

  • Do not use your cruise control in winter weather conditions.
  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly.
  • Increase your following distance from 3 seconds to 8 to 10 seconds.
  • Know beforehand whether you have antilock brakes, or whether you will need to “pump” your brakes for maximum stopping power.
  • When possible, do not stop going uphill.
  • Keep your gas tank at least half full, so that you can stay warm in the event of an accident.
  • If you do get stranded, do not try to push your vehicle out.
  • Signal distress with a bright cloth tied to your antenna, or hanging from a window. Use flares and hazard lights as well.

Preparations to keep on-hand

The NSC recommends you have these items with you at all times, in the event of an emergency:

  • Properly inflated spare tire, wheel wrench, and jack
  • Shovel
  • Jumper cables
  • Tow chains and tire chains
  • Bag of salt, sand, or kitty litter for traction or to melt snow
  • Basic tool kit
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Reflective triangles or flares
  • First aid kit
  • Windshield cleaner, ice scraper, and snow brush
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Scissors and string or cord
  • Nonperishable, high-energy foods (nuts, dried fruits, hard candies)
  • Blankets, mittens, socks, hats, even a spare pair of shoes

For more information, check out the NSC’s website here.

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