Essential Tips For Safe Winter Travel

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Most people dread traveling in winter, but the season has its charm nevertheless. There are so many places you can still visit, enjoy a nice family outing, or spend your kid’s winter break in a nice winter resort.

Make sure to TAKE proper precautions when traveling in winter - Shreyans Bhansali / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA

Wherever you decide to go, don’t fly there, because canceled flights due to bad weather are more commonplace than closed main road arteries. Rent a car better suited to winter conditions than yours. Of course, there are quite a few things to be considered for your winter travel safety, but preparation always makes life easier.

Let’s review the basics.

Weather forecast

taivasalla / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA

Yes, it’s common sense to check what the weather’s going to be like during your travels. Still, it’s baffling how so many people forget to do it while fretting over other petty things. If a blizzard is on the go, very low temperatures are expected, or strong winds, you may want to postpone for a day, and perhaps wait it out at home. Even if your vehicle is well equipped, don’t risk it. As they say, better safe than sorry!

Tires x 4

If your tires are in bad shape, this is downright life-threatening. According to The Tire Rack, a tire should have at least 6/32-inch deep tread in order to leave a good snow traction. “Summer” tires have either very little or no grip on the snow. If you are headed to the mountains, don’t forget to take chains for extreme conditions.

Seeing is believing

whertha / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND

Blizzards can totally blur your vision and challenge your sense of direction during winter travel. Check the windshield wiper blades and replace them if needed. It is wise to apply water-shedding substance such as Rain-X outside all windows and mirrors. The windshield water system must function properly, and be sure to fill it up with an anti-icing fluid or antifreeze.

Shine a light

To be visible to other drivers during snowfall is essential. Keep your headlights and taillights clear of snow. Here’s an idea: to prevent lenses from pitting, you can cover them with a clear tape usually used to protect race car wings. You can find it on auto-racing supply sites.

Hit the brake… or not

Never forget that proper braking could save your life. Bear in mind that it takes longer to stop on a slippery road. Therefore, leave more distance between you and the vehicle in front of you.

Don’t brake hard on snow or an icy road because the wheels will lock if the car doesn’t have an anti-lock brakes (ABS) system. The best way is to get the wheels rolling by releasing the pedal slightly. Then brake again, but gently.

In case of hard braking, ABS prevents the wheels from locking and you don’t lose control while steering. Even during wheel lock-up, the system keeps the tires rolling by relieving enough pressure. Usually, all the commotion happens in a split second, and if your first impulse is to lift your foot off the brake or pump the pedal – don’t. If it’s a matter of emergency, press the brake quickly and hard. Remember, however, that the ABS system doesn’t shorten the stopping distance. Most importantly, keep calm.

Black ice

If you’ve never had to drive on “black ice”, consider yourself lucky. It’s an unpredictable, slick road condition that could test your resilience as well as the speed of your reflexes. Also known as “glare ice”, this is a transparent thin layer of ice that most drivers initially take for an innocent frost. Slow and very careful driving are your only way out. Avoid sudden braking at any cost.

Survival kit

Again, while traveling on snow-covered roads, you must be prepared. Take if not all, at least some, of the items listed below:

Al_HikesAZ / Flickr / CC BY-NC
  • road maps
  • extra antifreeze
  • booster cables
  • warning light or road flares
  • shovel
  • compass
  • sand (kitty litter)
  • extra clothing and footwear
  • ice scraper and brush
  • flashlight
  • first aid kit
  • food and blankets

Driving during winter can be quite stressful, but don’t let it ruin your planned vacation or a trip to a mountain resort. Just use extra caution and keep your eyes open. Oh, and go easy on the brake!

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