No one wants to find themselves stranded in sub-zero temperatures in the middle of nowhere – especially when driving home for the holidays. While this type of winter road trip disaster has probably happened to you at least once, there are ways to avoid the worst: by knowing what to expect when the unexpected happens and preparing for it ahead of time. Need to brush up on your winter weather safety tips for this season? Here are 10 life-saving winter road trip tips to keep you safe and in the know at this time of year.
As Road Trip TravelingMom, I’ve traveled across America and Canada in all seasons and in some of the harshest weather conditions you can imagine. I’ve hit the highways in 100+ degree temps in the height of summer and in sub-zero temps during the worst of a Midwestern winter. I’ve found myself in the middle of a tornado in Central Ohio road tripping back from Indiana.
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And then there’s those crazy winter weather conditions that always seem to occur around Christmas during cold weather season. I remember driving home from skiing on a winter road trip in Central West Virginia where we hit a snow squall and, in about 30 minute’s time, the once-clear highway had several inches of snow. That was a white-knuckle experience!
I’ve always enjoyed glorious overcast driving days far more than the crazy ones when heading to my parent’s house for the holidays. But there’s one thing that keeps me sane and a little less white-knuckled: making sure my car is prepared for the worst. When you’re road tripping in winter, in New York or Nevada, these tips and tricks can keep you and your family safe.
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Know what that winter weather advisory means
The National Weather Service issues several cautions; understand what they mean before you head out on a winter road trip:
1. Winter weather advisories are for conditions that may be hazardous, but should not become life threatening when using caution.
2. Winter storm watches mean that severe winter conditions may affect your area and are issued 12-36 hours in advance of major storms.
3. Winter storm warnings mean a storm bringing four or more inches of snow/sleet is expected in the next 12 hours, or six or more inches in 24 hours.
4. Blizzard warnings mean snow and strong winds will produce blinding snow, deep drifts, and a life-threatening wind chill.
Let someone know your timetable and travel route.
It’s always fun to road trip on scenic routes, but the fun ends if you have an emergency and no cell service. This is especially important if you’ll be driving in areas with little traffic, rural locations, or large park areas, like the Great Smoky Mountains or Grand Canyon.
Prevention is the best medicine.
Driving slowly and maintaining plenty of room between you and the next car is the easiest way to avoid accidents on a winter road trip. We all want to get to Christmas dinner faster, but that extra 30 minutes could save your life. In bad weather, allow for three-to-12 times more stopping distance, depending on the size of your vehicle.
If you have a new car that you’ve never tried in the snow or sleet, don’t push it. Your new car might be totally different in regard to its handling capabilities than your last one. If you have a rental car, consider purchasing travel insurance for peace of mind.
Stock your car with the tools you might need – just in case.
That includes a shovel, broom, ice scraper, jumper cables, blankets, flashlight, warning devices (flares), sand or kitty litter (for spreading under tires to increase traction on slick surfaces), and high-calorie non-perishable food.
Keep spare, charged batteries for cell phones in your car.
Duracell and others make instant chargers for popular phones such as the iPhone. If your car battery dies, you will be glad you spent the extra $5 to reach help. If you regularly travel to remote areas where cell towers are few and far between, consider investing in a satellite telephone or an in-car service like On-Star. Your vehicle isn’t On-Star capable? Consider purchasing a similar device that plugs into your vehicle’s power outlet like Hum by Verizon.
Don’t go below a half tank of gas. Ever.
Keep your gas tank full to prevent the fuel line from freezing. Also, make sure the windshield wiper fluid reservoir is full. For good measure, tuck an extra gallon of wiper fluid in the trunk. You can never have enough at any time of year.
Check to make sure your lights and windshield wipers are functioning properly.
In most states it is illegal to drive if either is malfunctioning. In certain winter road trip situations it is also extremely unsafe.
If you get stuck in the snow, stay in your car.
Your vehicle is your best shelter. Don’t leave unless help is within 100 yards. During cold weather season, this tip could save your life on a winter road trip.
Nearly 60 percent of accidents are the result of improper driving.
Whether you’ve had a bit too much pie or a bit too much pilsner, don’t drive until you are fully awake and not impaired by anything. Most adults know well enough not to drink and drive, but accidents are just as easily caused by being drowsy or impaired by legal drugs like cold medicines. When in doubt, pull to the side of the road or check into a motel for a quick nap.
Carry a first aid kit in the car with you.
This is especially important if you have children or someone who is elderly riding with you. While you’re checking your first aid kit for expiration dates and restocking, stock the car with bottled water and snacks.
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Have you ever needed to use one of these winter road trip tips? Tell us about it in the comment section below!
TravelingMom received financial compensation from Allianz Global Assistance (AGA Service Company) for this sponsored post but all opinions are our own.