Are you driving home to celebrate Christmas with your family or taking a winter vacation in a different state? Whatever your plans, it’s important to stay safe on the roads during the holidays. With all the snow, icy roads, and busy highways, winter driving presents its own set of challenges. Here are a few winter travel safety tips to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable trip.
1. Plan ahead
One of the most important winter travel safety tips is to plan ahead. Allow plenty of time for your journey and avoid driving late at night or in bad weather. If your trip will take more than a day, you should book accommodations beforehand. Since it’s the holiday season, many people will be going home to their loved ones, too, so make reservations ahead of your trip to ensure availability.
It’s also a good idea to plan where you’ll eat, take bathroom breaks, and gas up. Plan your route and stick to it as best as you can so you know exactly what to expect and avoid any surprises along the way.
2. Check the weather forecast before you leave
Before embarking on your journey, be sure to check the current and future weather conditions for your route. This will help you plan for any inclement weather that may affect your travel. If the forecast is not good, you should rethink your plans. You can postpone your road trip for when the weather is better or take an alternate route. If that’s not possible, there’s always next year or you can visit your relatives the next time you have a break or occasion.
3. Prepare for possible delays or emergencies
Plan your route and allow extra time for travel, as winter weather can cause delays. Check all possible routes in case you encounter closed roads or traffic jams. You don’t want to be stuck on the highway for hours in a snowstorm!
4. Have backup plans
Aside from giving yourself some leeway in case of wintery delays, it’s also wise to have a backup plan in case you get stranded or the weather is too severe to continue. Have a list of emergency numbers you can contact if your car breaks down and needs to be towed. You’ll need to do some research to find out the towing services and mechanical shops near your route.
Find out where the hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and rest stops are located on the route. In case of a long delay, you may need to find a place to stay.
5. Inform someone of your winter road trip
Surprising your family back home is nice and all, but winter travel safety tips dictate that you should also let someone know your whereabouts in case of emergency. Tell a relative or friend about your plans – where you’re going, when you’re leaving, and when you expect to return. Make sure to check in with them every few hours during the trip.
6. Make sure your vehicle is ready for the long drive
Ideally, you should have your vehicle checked regularly to make sure it’s always in good working order. This should give you some peace of mind whenever you get in the car. You should be doubly sure to check if your vehicle is in tip-top shape if you’re planning to go on a long drive.
A few days before your road trip, take your vehicle to the shop and make sure it passes a mechanical inspection. Check your oil, brakes, tires, headlights, and other parts of your vehicle to ensure its road readiness. Make sure the heat, defroster, and other elements of the HVAC system are working properly, as well. If you think your vehicle needs some repair, take it a week or so before your trip so there is enough time for the shop to work on it.
7. Fill your tank
Fill your tank with fuel so that you’ll plenty of gas for the entire journey and help in case you encounter emergency situations. It’s not a good idea to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere in this cold weather. A full tank of gas can also help you stay warm, especially if you get stuck in traffic.
8. Make sure your vehicle is winter-ready
Winter can place added stress on your vehicle, so take the time to make sure it’s in good working order before you leave. It’s important to make sure your vehicle can handle the cold weather and slippery roads. Take the necessary precautionary steps to prevent tires from slipping on icy roads. Check your tires and make sure they have adequate tread. This will help provide additional grip on slippery roads, as well as help prevent skids and hydroplaning. Additionally, you can also use winter tires or add snow chains to provide better traction.
Even if you already had your car serviced, you still need to double-check everything again before driving off. See if your tires are properly inflated, your lights are working, and the battery is charged. Check all fluids, especially the antifreeze and windshield washer fluid. Again, you need to fill up your tank. Keeping your gas tank at least half full will help prevent the fuel line from freezing.
9. Bring a car tool kit
Always bring the necessary tools and other supplies you’ll need to fix your vehicle in case of emergencies. Your car tool kit should include basic items needed for repairs such as Philips and flathead screwdrivers, hex keys, pliers, wire cutter, torque wrench, impact wrench, hammer, ratchet, and socket sets. Make sure you have extra fuses, spark plugs, and oil, too.
A tire iron, lug wrench, jack, and air pump are necessary if you get a flat tire. Jumper cables and a tow strap will also come in handy when your car battery runs out of juice. An extra battery would be great, too. Other tools you should bring include an emergency light, road flares, and reflectors. A pry bar, seatbelt cutter, and glass breaker tool can save your life in case of an accident. The same goes for a fire extinguisher.
10. Pack an emergency kit
It’s always better to be safe than sorry and having an emergency kit in your vehicle increases your chances of surviving any emergency you encounter on the road. Pack basic emergency kit items such as food and water. Even if the drive is just a few hours long, you should still bring some non-perishable snacks to keep everyone from going hungry during the trip. Aside from making sandwiches, you can also bring energy bars, chocolates, trail mix, beef jerky, and dried fruits. Bring corn chips, too. Aside from being a tasty snack, corn chips can be used as kindling to start a fire.
Clean, drinking water is even more important than food. Bring enough water for everyone to last for the duration of the drive. If possible, bring extra water so you won’t run out in case the trip takes longer than expected. Aside from bottled water, bring a portable water filter, as well. If your supply runs out and there’s no store nearby, you can collect water from your surroundings and drink it safely through the filter.
A first-aid kit is also essential. This should include adhesive bandages, gauze, antiseptic wipes and creams, tweezers, scissors, and other basic medical supplies. Don’t forget to bring some medications such as pain relievers, cold and flu tablets, antihistamines, and other necessary drugs. If someone in the group has an existing medical condition, you need to rethink your trip. But if it’s okay for them to travel, make sure they have a supply of medicines and other things they need. The same goes for infants and older people. If you’re taking your pets along, pack their own emergency kit with ample pet food and water along with a blanket, toys, a water bowl, cleaning supplies, a leash, and a pet carrier.
Since we’re talking winter travel safety tips, we shouldn’t forget about fire. Bring different kinds of fire starters such as waterproof matches, lighters, and a fire starter stick. In case you’re stranded, you need to start a fire to keep yourselves from falling victim to hypothermia. Pack tinder and other items that’ll make it easier to start a fire even on snow.
Other valuable items that should be in your car emergency kit are duct tape, WD40, flashlight, headlamp, camping lantern, and batteries. Don’t forget other usual suspects such as a pocket knife, multi-tool, paracord, whistle, signal mirror, compass, road maps, cash, and basic survival tools such as a lighter, fire starter, tinder, matches, and even an emergency blanket.
Make sure your cell phone is fully charged and bring a car charger or extra battery just in case. You should also have a power bank and solar charger. The more ways you can keep your phone charged, the better your chances of contacting help in an emergency.
11. Pack winter-specific gear
Aside from the usual tools and supplies, winter road trips will require a few winter-specific items in your car. First, you’ll need winter clothes. Dress up in layers. Start with a base layer, then add a winter coat, wool socks, winter boots, a winter hat, mittens or gloves, and a winter scarf. If you find it difficult to drive with all that winter gear on, wear something more comfortable that will still keep you warm enough to not shiver while holding the wheel. Bring traction cleats, too. You’ll need them when you have to walk on snow and ice.
Next, make sure you have winter emergency supplies that provide warmth like extra clothes, wool blankets, thermal blankets, hand and body warmers, sleeping bags, winter coats, and winter hats.
Some winter-specific tools you shouldn’t leave behind include a snow shovel, windshield scraper, snow brush, snow chains, traction mats, and a bag of kitty litter, which gives your tires extra traction on snow and ice.
12. Take breaks
If you’re driving long distances, you need to take breaks and stretch your legs frequently. This will help prevent fatigue and increase your alertness. Stop at least every two hours to rest, get some fresh air, and rehydrate. Whenever you’re at a stop, take the time to stretch your muscles and move around to stay alert.
13. Follow the rules of the road
This may come as a surprise but one of the most valuable winter driving tips is to obey the rules of the road. This means, icy roads or not, you need to follow traffic laws. Wear seatbelts, use child safety seats, drive within the speed limit, use turn signals when changing lanes, yield to other drivers when necessary, use hazard lights properly, park in the right places,
Never drink and drive and don’t use your cell phone while driving. Always keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. And always be aware of your surroundings whether you’re on the road or parked somewhere. Following these rules will ensure that you reach your destination safely and without incident.
14. Take winter driving seriously
Winter travel can be dangerous if not taken seriously. Slow down and drive defensively, especially on roads that are covered in snow or ice. Watch out for patches of black ice, which can cause your vehicle to lose traction. Always drive with caution and pay attention to road conditions and weather forecasts.
Avoid speeding or driving too close to other vehicles. Make sure you increase the distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you. This will give you more time to react in case of an emergency. And since the road will be more slippery than usual, you’ll need the extra space to brake safely and manage a wintery skid. Finally, remember to stay calm in winter driving scenarios. Panicking is one sure way to make an already-dangerous situation worse.
15. Never leave the designated trail
If you’ve seen the Wrong Turn film series and Dead End (2003), you know why it’s so important to stay on the designated trails when driving. Taking shortcuts can often lead to dangerous and unanticipated terrain, so make sure you stay on the marked path at all times.
16. Be mindful of wildlife
Keep a watchful eye out for animals while winter driving. Animals tend to make their way onto roads during winter, so be wary of where they may be crossing. It’s always a good idea to have an extra set of eyes and ears ready to spot wildlife ahead of time. Of course, you shouldn’t focus on animals alone. Watch out for other vehicles, people, potholes, obstacles, and flying debris, among other possible dangers on the road.
With Christmas just a few days from now, many families are getting ready to travel. Whether you’re headed out of town to visit relatives or taking a winter vacation, it’s important to keep safety in mind. Hopefully, the valuable tips winter travel safety tips we’ve listed down here will help you stay safe while traveling this winter. Discover more road safety awareness tips and winter driving hacks here on Gentleman Pirate Club. Happy winter traveling!