It never fails. Every year, the headlines are filled with the grim tales of a family who runs out of gas in the middle of nowhere and (nearly) freezes to death awaiting rescue. Or whose disabled vehicle cost them a visit from Santa and almost cost them their lives, too.
Before hopping in the car for a holiday roadtrip or trek to the ski slopes, make sure you’ve checked these safety tips off your to-do list to make sure that any travel your family makes this winter is as safe as it is enjoyable.
Maintain your vehicle. Check your levels, including gas and washer fluid, tire pressure and tread, and other key parts and functions of the vehicle like head and tail lights. Also, have your mechanic check for any major issues and perform the recommended maintenance services based on your vehicle mileage before taking any winter road trip.
Know your route. Matt Krzysiak, CEO of National Motor Club, one of the nation’s largest independent motor clubs, says don’t wait until you’re on the road to determine the best path to Grandma’s house. And don’t rely solely on your GPS, either. Technology can’t predict road and lane closures due to weather, accidents, etc.
“Before you hit the road, map out your main route and identify resting and eating stops,” Krzysiak says. You should also become familiar with alternate routes in case construction or inclement weather conditions make it necessary for you to take a detour.
Add a low-tech map to your high-tech navigation. “Smartphone navigators and GPS systems are great tools for directing you to your final destination, but you should also carry a paper map in case you lose your cell phone signal or the ability to recharge electrical equipment,” says Krzysiak. Highlighting your route on the paper map — and your alternate routes in a different color — will make it easier for you to stay on course.
Make your plans known. While it’s simple to just jump in the car and go, letting others know your route and your expected time of arrival could be very helpful if inclement weather closes in on you, says Jack R. Nerad, Executive Editorial Director, Kelley Blue Book. That way in the event you don’t reach your destination, loved ones will be able to advise emergency workers where you might be stranded.
Keep valuables out of sight. If you are traveling with expensive items, keep them out of sight at all times. “You can lock them away in the trunk, glove compartment or center console, or store them under the seat or any other place where they are not visible to reduce the risk of theft or car-jacking,” says Krzysiak.
Don’t be a distracted driver. Save the phone calls and texting until you stop for a break or reach your final destination. If you must make a phone call or send a text, pull over to the side of the road.
Avoid eating while driving. It may be tempting to shave a few minutes from your trip by grabbing a bite from the drive-thru, but you’ll be safer and more rested if you simply stop and take a brief meal break.
Fasten your seat belt. It sounds cliché, but wearing a seat belt while driving is not only a safety measure, it’s the law. And for children who complain that the seat belt is uncomfortable, Krzysiak suggests, “Instead of allowing children to remove their seat belts during the trip, schedule additional roadside breaks to give them some freedom to move around.”
Always have a well-stocked emergency kit. Nerad suggests having a candle, sleeping bag and/or “space blanket,” flashlight with fresh batteries, and a well-charged cellphone with additional battery power in the car at all times during the winter. Other items to stock in your winter road emergency include:
- booster cables
- chains or a tow strap
- small shovel
- sand or cat litter (for traction to get out of the snow or ice)
- first aid kit
- extra socks and gloves
- ice scraper
- flares and matches.
Drive cautiously. It is especially important to be cautious of hazardous road conditions during the winter and holiday season, says Krzysiak. Keep an eye out for wet or icy roads, take your time, and slow down on the curves. Most importantly, be patient. “Additional cars on the highway may result in traffic backups and angry drivers. You can avoid a collision or a road rage incident by keeping your cool,” he says.
Stay with your stranded vehicle. While it might be tempting to try to walk to safety, Nerad says leaving your vehicle in blizzard conditions can be deadly. You’ll reduce the risk of exposure-related injuries as well as being struck by a vehicle or becoming disoriented and subsequently lost in wintery conditions.