Traveling in the winter can be perilous and being prepared to drive in challenging conditions is important before starting your trip. Last week, the nation saw drivers on I-95 in Virginia stranded in traffic for over 27 hours as a snowstorm buried the state. Starting your trip prepared to survive being stranded for days is critical during inclement weather.
Prepare your vehicle. Ensure that you have a full tank of gas, an up to date oil change and washer fluid available. Make sure that your tires are in good condition. Many quick lube businesses will do a winter check as part of their basic packages during oil changes. You can also have your mechanic do a yearly inspection and take care of any maintenance your vehicle might need in order to be safe during winter weather travel. Ensure you have a roadside kit with flares, reflective triangles or some other bright signaling device.
Prepare your supplies. When the weather begins to turn cold make sure that you travel with essentials. Packing a bag with a warm blanket, cell phone charger, food and water rations for 3 days, gloves, a winter hat and extra jacket, multitool or knife and you could also add a roll of duct tape. That may sound sort of like the same kit a criminal would carry, but there is a use for everything that is legal. Most uses are obvious, warmth or sustenance.
The multitool can used to cut your seat belt if you are in an accident and cannot free yourself. Depending on where you are stranded you can also gather from your surroundings, cut branches or free yourself from foliage to be seen by rescuers or start moving toward a more populated area to get help. The duct tape can be used to seal yourself inside the vehicle and close drafty areas such as window seals or vents to keep heat inside if your vehicle no longer runs. Duct tape can be used for a makeshift window, as well, if your window breaks during an accident, should you not have a tarp or other wind and water resistant barrier. The tape could also be used to close off wrist cuffs and the ankles of your pants to keep moisture and snow out of your clothing. You have to reserve all of the body heat you can if you have to walk to help. Keeping your cell phone charged might also seem obvious, but your cell phone can be a way for responders to find you, even if you cannot make a phone call. Phones are pocket GPS beacons which might creep you out on any average day, but if you are lost your phone's location services could save your life.
Expect traffic delays. You cannot anticipate everyone's skill level while driving and even the best drivers can get into accidents. Situations constantly change on the roadway, so give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination. Road crews may not be available, first responders may not be available and not all areas are densely populated. Remain aware of your surroundings, tell someone where you are going, when you leave and your expected arrival time. Let someone know where you are along the way if you can do so, safely. Many people have gone missing in inclement weather. Some were unable to survive.
Do not ignore road closure signs and keep your radio available to listen to traffic warnings in areas where radio traffic is available. You can also use services like Wayze or other GPS services that will warn you about traffic conditions and road closures ahead. If you have provided a loved one with your travel plan and that plan has to change based on conditions, update them. The National Weather Service has more information available on their website.