Be Safe; Winter Driving Tips

By: Marie Wakefield

Winter driving can be stressful not to mention very hazardous. Wind, snow, ice and blizzard conditions amplify the normal dangers of driving. And with less hours of daylight, these problems are magnified. However, you can offset those aggravations and minimize the special risks of winter driving by following a few simple steps and taking certain precautions before and during driving.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the leading cause of death during winter storms are transportation accidents. Preparations for the winter season and knowing how to react if stranded or lost on the road are the keys to safe winter traveling.

Before winter starts or you leave for a trip in the winter, have the following items checked on your car:



Wipers and windshield washer fluid

Ignition system



Flashing hazard lights

Exhaust system




Oil level (if necessary, replace existing oil with a winter grade oil)

Check your tires to be sure they are road ready. Install tires that are appropriate for the driving conditions. In moderate amounts of snow, all weather radials will do the job nicely. If you live in an area where you have a lot of snow, consider snow tires. These have better tread to deal with snow and ice. Maintain a half tank of gasoline during the winter.

Be prepared - put together a bad weather kit to keep in the trunk of back of your car. This will ensure that you are prepared in the event that you get stuck in a storm. Keep these items in your kit:

Flashlights with extra batteries

First aid kit with pocket knife

Necessary medications

Several blankets or Sleeping bags

Plastic bags (for sanitation)


Extra set of gloves or mittens,socks, and a wool cap

Rain gear and extra clothes

Small sack of sand or kitty litter for generating traction under wheels

Small shovel

Small tools (pliers, wrench, screwdriver)

Jumper cables

Set of tire chains or traction mats

Books, cards, games

Brightly colored cloth to use as a flag

Help sign for back window

Canned fruit and nuts

Nonelectric can opener

Bottled water

Charged cell phone (always carry this, especially in the winter)

In the event your car gets stuck, stay with your vehicle. If you leave you may become disoriented and get lost in blowing and drifting snow. Put up the hood and tie your cloth to the antennae. Put the "need help" sign in the window. This will make you more visible to emergency vehicles and other drivers. Keep the windows, air grill and tail pipe clear of snow. Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning. Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow, and open a downwind window slightly for ventilation. Be aware that blowing or drifting snow can bury or seal a car shut. Wrap up in blankets or sleeping bags and, if there are others, huddle up with to stay warm. Run the heat for fifteen minutes each hour to keep from freezing. Move your body around to stay warm. Simple exercises, like those used on an airplane work well. Try not to stay in one position for too long.

Listen to the Weather Report before heading out. It can be a life saver.

Pay attention to the weather terms used.

Here are the most common Winter Weather Terms-

Winter Storm Warning: Issued when hazardous winter weather in the form of heavy snow, heavy freezing rain, or heavy sleet is imminent or occurring. Winter Storm Warnings are usually issued 12 to 24 hours before the event is expected to begin.

Winter Storm Watch: Alerts the public to the possibility of a blizzard, heavy snow, heavy freezing rain, or heavy sleet. Winter Storm Watches are usually issued 12 to 48 hours before the beginning of a Winter Storm.

Winter Storm Outlook: Issued prior to a Winter Storm Watch. The Outlook is given when forecasters believe winter storm conditions are possible and are usually issued 3 to 5 days in advance of a winter storm.

Blizzard Warning: Issued for sustained or gusty winds of 35 mph or more, and falling or blowing snow creating visibilities at or below ? mile; these conditions should persist for at least three hours.

Lake Effect Snow Warning: Issued when heavy lake effect snow is imminent or occurring.

Wind Chill Warning: Issued when wind chill temperatures are expected to be hazardous to life within several minutes of exposure.

Wind Chill Advisory: Issued when wind chill temperatures are expected to be a significant inconvenience to life with prolonged exposure, and, if caution is not exercised, could lead to hazardous exposure.

Winter Weather Advisories: Issued for accumulations of snow, freezing rain, freezing drizzle, and sleet which will cause significant inconveniences and, if caution is not exercised, could lead to life-threatening situations.

Bad weather in winter driving requires you to be extra vigilant and prepared, but the most important tip for winter driving is slow down! Always allow plenty of time to get where you are going, and get off the road before you get stuck by severe weather.


The Weather Channel

West Virginia Department of Transportation

Oregon Department of Transportation

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