Chairman's Message: Winter Weather Driving Tips

Words: Larry Vacala

Winter has arrived. Every year drivers are injured or killed due to driving/traveling in snowy weather conditions. Last year on a Virginia highway, hundreds of drivers were stranded due to a winter storm. Many were stranded in their cars for over 24 hours. In 2011 a similar incident occurred in Chicago when a blizzard stranded approximately 900 drivers along Lake Shore Drive overnight.  Considering the severity of these winter conditions, our Safety Department complied a winter safety checklist. I’d like to share it with you to keep you and your loved ones safe when traveling this winter.

1. PREPARE YOUR VEHICLE FOR WINTER -

  • Check the condition of your battery, cooling system, brakes, tires, belts, hoses, etc.  
  • Check your tire pressure regularly (every temperature change of 10 degrees or more can impact tire pressures).  
  • Install winter windshield wipers or be sure yours are in good shape. 
  • Keep windshield wiper fluid full.  
  • Always keep your fuel tank full or at least half full.  

2. DRESS APPROPRIATELY AND PACK AN EMERGENCY BAG - The first line of defense starts before you leave home. Always pay attention to the weather report and be aware of upcoming weather conditions.  You have no control over the forecast, but you have control over how you dress when you leave your home.  As an office-worker you may decide to wear less layers, thinking you only have exposure to the weather while walking to and from your vehicle.  This philosophy works until your car breaks down or you become stranded.  If you don’t want to wear extra layers, you should pack an emergency bag. In the bag add additional warm clothes, gloves, scarf, hat, socks, along with a blanket or two to be kept in your vehicle.  If you’re travelling with children or pets, make sure your emergency bag has additional items and blankets for them. Also consider keeping extra water and non-perishable snacks in your vehicle.  If stranded the extra food and water will come in very handy.

3. NOTIFY AUTHORITIES - If you become stranded in your vehicle, the first thing you should do is notify authorities with your cell phone.  Before the battery dies, pinpoint your location with the GPS/maps function. Tell authorities exactly where you are and who is with you.  Provide relevant information such as how much fuel you have left and if you have food and water. 

4. DO NOT ABANDON YOUR VEHICLE - If you are unable to move your vehicle, stay where you are.  Your vehicle is good shelter.  Unless you are absolutely sure there is a building nearby that you can safely get to stay in your vehicle until help arrives.  Assuming your vehicle is stuck and not submerged in water or on fire.

5. MAKE SURE YOUR EXHAUST PIPE IS NOT BLOCKED BY SNOW OR DEBRIS.  VERY IMPORTANT!!!!  If you’ve taken shelter in your vehicle and are awaiting rescue during a snowstorm, you need to check several times, that your exhaust pipe isn’t blocked.  A blocked exhaust pipe will allow carbon monoxide to buildup in your vehicle.  Carbon monoxide is a colorless odorless gas. It displaces oxygen in the blood and deprives vital organs of oxygen.  A build-up of carbon monoxide gas can/will kill you.  If you have dual exhaust, you need to ensure that all exhaust pipes are clear of snow and debris.  Check repeatedly until you are rescued.  

6. STAY WARM - You can survive up to 30 days without food, and 3 days without water.  However, you can only survive 3 hours without warmth.  This is where extra layers of clothing and blankets are essential whenever you’re traveling in cold weather.  Consider purchasing hand/body warmer packs to keep in your emergency kits.  

7. STAY HYDRATED - Second only to warmth when stranded in cold weather is hydration.  As mentioned earlier, you should have water in your vehicle. Ration it appropriately (based on how much water you have and how many people you have). If you run out of water, consider options like melting snow into drinkable water. Do not EAT snow, it will lower your body temperature quickly and increase the rate at which you could succumb to hypothermia. Put snow into a container and use body heat or sunlight to melt it and drink the resulting water once melted. 

8. USE FUEL SPARINGLY – You want to run your engine to make sure your battery doesn’t die, and your fuel line doesn’t freeze.  Be smart with how much fuel you have. If the sun is out, take advantage of its natural warmth and only run your engine at night.    

9. MAKE YOURSELF VISIBLE – You’ll want to make sure that rescuers can easily see your vehicle when they arrive (if it’s not in an obvious location).  Use a piece of colored fabric, honk your horn (only if your vehicle is running, to conserve battery life), or find other ways to alert onlookers and authorities that you are stuck and in need of help.

10. DRIVE APPROPRIATELY – We are always in a hurry.  We live in a world with a lot going on while our lives are very busy.  But driving in snow, sleet, ice or wet conditions requires us to monitor our driving more closely.  Watch your speed and how much stopping distance you have between you and the vehicle in front of you.  Know what to do if you start sliding.  Use extra caution when driving uphill or downhill.

There is a lot of information here and it may seem like overkill but being prepared for driving in winter weather could someday save your life or the life of someone you love. Thank you, Don Ritt, for these valuable safety tips!

Wishing All a Happy Healthy New Year!

Stay Safe, Stay Strong!
Larry Vacala


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