Winter driving safety tips

Overlooking the need to prepare for winter driving can be a mistake — and a deadly one at that.

Mary Knapp, of Kansas State University, urges caution on roads during winter days. “Conditions can change quickly. A road can be clear on the way to an appointment, yet hazardous when it’s time to return,” Knapp says.Motorists can reduce their risks with a two-part process, says Mike Bradshaw, Kansas State University Research and Extension health and safety specialist.

Battery, alternator and starter: All should be in good working order. If the battery is near the end of its life, ask an auto technician to do a load test. Replace it early to ensure consistent starts.Belts and hoses: If a belt or hose is showing wear or cracking, replace it.Brakes: Check wear and replace pads or other mechanics, if needed.Head, tail and emergency lights: Make sure all lights work.Heater, defroster and fan: Make sure all systems work.Radiator and antifreeze: Check fluid levels and antifreeze.Windshield wiper blades: Replace blades annually. Use a snow brush and ice scraper to clear the windshield, side and rear windows, head, tail- and sidelights. Using wipers as ice scrapers can damage wiper blades and mechanism. De-icer also can be helpful if a vehicle is left uncovered for a period of time.Wiper fluid: Windshield washer fluids vary; some more expensive brands are less likely to “slush.” Monitor this and other fluid levels. Consider placing a spare bottle in the trunk.Tires: All-weather tires with good tread generally work in Kansas. If it’s necessary to travel out of the state, a motorist may want to consider snow tires. Check the condition of the spare tire, and if the jack and lug wrench are in place.

After completing the automotive checklist, use these tips to further help reduce risks on the road:

  1. Check weather conditions by listening to radio and television weather reports.
  2. Travel absolutely necessary? Advise others of departure, estimated travel time and route. If you fail to arrive, rescuers will know where to begin their search.
  3. Travel during daylight hours.
  4. Slow down. Allow extra stopping distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you. And, keep an eye on the vehicle behind you.
  5. Reduce speed when approaching an intersection, which can be particularly dangerous as snow melts and refreezes, turning corners and approaching or using on and off ramps.
  6. Accelerate slowly.
  7. What to do in a skid? The type of brakes dictates recommended responses. Generally, the rule is to turn into a skid and then correct, with care not to overcorrect. With anti-lock brakes, press firmly on the brake pedal. Without anti-lock brakes, let up on the gas and pump the brakes to avoid wheel lockup. Practice starts, stops and responding to a skid in an empty parking lot.
  8. Slide off the road? Staying with the vehicle is recommended. Tie a bright cloth or bandana to the antenna or put the hood up to signal the need for assistance. If you have a cell phone along, use it to call for help. To stay warm while waiting, bundle up and/or run the heater intermittently — perhaps 10 minutes an hour — to conserve fuel until help arrives. Lower windows two to three inches to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. When snow is a contributing factor and a car or truck slides into a ditch or snow bank, make sure that the area around exhaust is clear so that carbon monoxide fumes will be exhausted.
  9. Keep the gas tank close to full to prevent condensation, add weight, and, if stranded, provide the fuel needed to run the heater.

Winter car kit
Think of a your winter car kit as an insurance policy. What to include? Here are some recommendations.

  • Bright tie or bandanna to tie on antenna as a signal
  • Cell phone, if you have one
  • Extra warm clothes, such as insulated coveralls, jacket, hat, gloves, socks and boots
  • Blanket(s)
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Flare or reflectors
  • Non-skid mats or cat box litter (for traction, if stuck)
  • Bag of sand or salt
  • Jumper cablea
  • Tow rope
  • Shovel
  • Tool kit
  • First aid kit
  • Two or more day supply of medications
  • Candle, coffee can and matches (stored in water-proof container)
  • Non-perishable food, such as dried fruit, nuts, cereal bars
  • Water
  • Battery-powered radio


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