“Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go.” Throw in some snow and a one-horse open sleigh and you have the makings of a delightful holiday trip worthy of Currier & Ives. Cut to the reality: You’re traveling in winter weather and staring down the barrel of massive traffic jams, drivers who seem like they’ve never seen snow before and a carload of cranky passengers. What could go wrong?
A lot, actually. That is why you need to heighten your defensive driving skills. You can bolster those skills by embracing these 10 tips for safe travels in winter weather:
- Check the Weather
This is a no-brainer. The caveat is that you need to check the weather for where you’re heading. Thankfully, there are plenty of weather apps that can pinpoint approaching storms with remarkable accuracy. You might not trust your local weather forecaster, but put your faith in an app. It can become your best friend.
- Make Sure Your Car Is Ready
You should always get your car checked before taking a road trip in any kind of weather. During winter, that checkup should include antifreeze and good windshield wipers. If you’re switching to snow tires, make sure they are up to the challenge of icy roads. Inside the car, you should have an ice scraper, snow shovel and sand just in case. A bag of kitty litter will also do the trick.
- Keep the Tank Full
When driving in cold temperatures, try not to let your gas tank fall too far below half full. In case you get stuck, it helps to keep your car running until help arrives.
- Keep Your Cellphones Charging
In a roadside emergency, your cellphone will become your lifeline. It should always be charging while driving. That’s OK because you won’t be using them anyway, right? Hands free all the time!
- Stick to the Main Roads
Driving in winter weather is no time to go off-road exploring. Yes, the big ball of string might just be a few miles off the highway, but you would be well advised to stick to that main road. It will probably be clear as far as the eye can see. You won’t be able to make that same claim once you get off the highway. There is no telling when or if the plows will come by. Until you reach your exit, stick to the clear path.
- Avoid Driving at Night
Temperatures drop at night: That is problem No. 1 with winter travel. The other issue is visibility. There is no telling what might be stuck around the bend. Keep in mind that 22 percent of accidents are weather-related, which amounts to 1.3 billion crackups. This is why on long trips it is much better to drive during the day.
- Drive With a Friend and Some Water
It is a good suggestion to travel with a companion whenever possible. This is someone who can help you stay alert and navigate with those weather apps. Plus, if you put them in charge of music, you won’t have to take your eyes off the road. You should also have blankets and plenty of water. That is for the “just in case” scenario that has you getting stuck in the snow. It might be cold outside, but dehydration is still a major concern.
- Share Your Route
Whether you are coming or going, you should share your route with family and/or friends. Even if you’re surprising someone on one end, you can still let someone know which highway you plan on taking and when you expect to arrive. Don’t depend on Facebook status updates for people to keep track of you.
- Run Your Car 10 Minutes Per Hour if Stranded
If you do get stranded in the snow and it looks like help might be far off, you’ll need to ration your engine use. A good rule is 10 minutes of running time every hour. That will help keep the engine from freezing over and keep you warm. While the car is running, crack open a window to avoid a potential carbon monoxide buildup. Be sure your exhaust pipe is clear of any snow.
- Keep Your Distance
If you can read the bumper sticker on the car in front of you, you’re way too close. Driving in bad weather is all about keeping your distance from the cars in front of you. You can’t depend on their driving skills, but that braking distance can make a world of difference if brakes are suddenly slammed along an icy patch of road.
Are you still sure you want to drive in winter weather? Those conditions are a perfect excuse to spend the night wherever you are. If a sofa or pullout bed is offered, then by all means take it! It is much better to leave the next day than to get stuck on the road.