Winter Driving Requires Preparedness, Common Sense

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The weather outside, while not exactly frightful, can foul up both everyday and holiday travel plans.

To limit the risks, the Federal Emergency Management Agency website has lots of helpful information.

The leading cause of death during winter storms is transportation accidents. Preparing your vehicle for the winter season and knowing how to react if stranded or lost on the road are the keys to safe winter driving.

Before

  • Have a mechanic check the following items on your car:
  • Battery
  • Antifreeze
  • Wipers and windshield washer fluid
  • Ignition system
  • Thermostat
  • Lights
  • Flashing hazard lights
  • Exhaust system
  • Heater
  • Brakes
  • Defroster
  • Oil level, if necessary, replace existing oil with a winter grade oil or the SAE 10w/30 weight variety
  • Install good winter tires. Make sure the tires have adequate tread. All-weather radials are usually adequate for most winter conditions. However, some jurisdictions require that to drive on their roads, vehicles must be equipped with chains or snow tires with studs.
  • Keep a windshield scraper and small broom for ice and snow removal.
  • Maintain at least half a tank of gas during the winter season.
  • Plan long trips carefully. Listen to the radio or call the state highway patrol for the latest road conditions. Always travel during daylight and, if possible, take at least one other person.
  • If you must go out during a winter storm, use public transportation.
  • Dress warmly. Wear layers of loose-fitting, layered, lightweight clothing.
  • Carry food and water. Store a supply of high energy "munchies" and several bottles of water.

Winter Car Kit (keep in car)

  • Flashlights with extra batteries
  • First aid kit with pocket knife
  • Necessary medications
  • Several blankets
  • Sleeping bags
  • Extra newspapers for insulation
  • Plastic bags for sanitation
  • Matches
  • Extra set of mittens, socks and a wool cap
  • Rain gear and extra clothes
  • Small sack of sand for generating traction under wheels
  • Small shovel
  • Small tools, such as pliers, wrench, screwdriver
  • Booster cables
  • Set of tire chains or traction mats
  • Cards, games and puzzles
  • Brightly colored cloth to use as a flag
  • Canned fruit and nuts
  • Nonelectric can opener
  • Bottled water

Frostbite and hypothermia

  • Frostbite is a severe reaction to cold exposure that can permanently damage its victims. A loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in fingers, toes or nose and ear lobes are symptoms of frostbite.
  • Hypothermia is a condition brought on when a person's body temperature drops to less than 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, slow speech, memory lapses, frequent stumbling, drowsiness and exhaustion.
  • If frostbite or hypothermia are suspected, begin warming the person slowly and seek immediate medical assistance. Warm the person's trunk first. Use your own body heat to help. Arms and legs should be warmed last because stimulation of the limbs can drive the cold blood toward the heart and lead to heart failure.
  • Put person in dry clothing and wrap their entire body in a blanket.
  • Never give a frostbite or hypothermia victim something with caffeine in it, such as coffee or tea, or alcohol. Caffeine, a stimulant, can cause the heart to beat faster and hasten the effects the cold has on the body. Alcohol, a depressant, can slow the heart and also hasten the ill effects of cold body temperatures.

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