Sunday, November 25, 2018

Old Man Winter is ready for winter...are you?

As we say goodbye to our summer and fall, it won’t be long until we are forced to welcome even colder weather and with that, tougher driving conditions.  With this in mind, are both you and your vehicle ready for the winter?  How’s your inner “Mario Andretti”?  Should your car break down or you become stuck, do you have a survival kit in your car? As a firefighter, I can tell you it will be hard for emergency vehicles to get to you during snowy and icy conditions so it is best to be prepared!

Cold temperatures can:  

  • Reduce the effectiveness of your vehicle’s battery by at least 50%,
  • Freeze tires, keeping them flat on the bottom for at least the first half-mile of travel,
  • Thicken your car’s lubricants, making the engine work too hard, and
  • Most importantly, extreme winter weather can threaten your life.

I’ve put together a few winter safety tips to keep in mind as you hit the roads this winter.

Be Aware of the Weather
We’ve heard it before, “If you don’t like the weather now, wait a minute!  It will change!”  I know it doesn’t always happen, but believe it or not…weather changes take some people by surprise!  Don’t be one of those people

  • Before heading out, listen to forecasts, road reports and storm warnings.
  • Dress appropriately. Pack extra scarves, mittens, jacket, and blanket in case your car becomes stranded.
  • Allow extra time.  You never know what might happen during your trip.

I think it would be a great idea to have a NASCAR Pit Crew in your trunk (or even a reliable Trunk Monkey).  Anything my car needs can then be taken care of on the spot, and quickly!  While I don’t have the room in my trunk for such items (let alone the money to pay for all of it), I do take the time to check a few items off my pre-flight list before the trip.  How about you?

  • Are your tires ready?  Having a good winter tire makes a world of difference when driving through tough winter conditions.
  • How’s your windshield wipers and fluid?
  • Is your car cleared off? Clean frost, snow and ice off all windows, mirrors, lights, reflectors and your roof. Snow and ice flying off vehicles while traveling can be very dangerous.
  • Do you have gas? Keep your gas tank at least one-half full.
  • How is your battery? It’s best to charge it periodically.

Driving Tips
There are summer days where I find having to share the road with other drivers stressful!  This time of year, I believe that Mother Nature is looking at us and thinking, “How can I add to their fun?  I’ve got it!  Let’s throw in some slick roads!”  Since it is obvious that she has a sense of humor, here are a few things to consider should you be stuck in a slippery situation.

  • Accelerate carefully to test wheel-spin and brake gently to test skidding.  Use the accelerator and brakes slowly to maintain control of your vehicle.
  • Know what type of brakes you have.  Almost all cars now have anti-lock brakes and can be applied by using steady pressure on the brake pedal until you are stopped.  For cars without anti-lock brakes, use a gentle pumping action.
  • Brake before you come to a curve, not while you are in it. 
  • Heavily traveled intersections can become “polished” and icy causing loss of steering control.
  • Do not use your brake on ice. Take your foot off the gas and steer as straight as possible until your car slows to a safe speed.  If the rear of your car begins to slide, turn into the direction of the skid. Expect a second skid as the car straightens out, and be prepared to counter this sliding action.  Look at the direction that you want to go…NOT where you are going!
  • Increase your following distance!  Ice or snow can multiply your stopping distance up to 10 times.  If you do find yourself in an emergency situation, you can intentionally steer your car off the road and into a snow bank. You may get stuck, but you’ll avoid a crash!

Survival Kit
No one thinks about survival until there is a need.  Funny how we all work like that. In the thick of a problem is when we usually hear that little voice saying “Should have thought about this before now!”  There were times where I heard that voice more than I liked, but each time I heard it, I was in a situation.  I learned from each one, thankfully (although there are times where a few of my friends and family would mention how the Jury is still out on that)!  No matter, here are a few ways you can keep yourself alive until help arrives!

Use an empty three-pound coffee can or any similar container with a plastic cover to store the following items in your vehicle. Store survival kit in the passenger compartment in case the trunk is jammed or frozen shut.
  • Small candles and matches
  • Small, sharp knife and plastic spoons
  • Red bandanna or cloth
  • Pencil and paper
  • Large plastic garbage bag
  • Safety pins
  • Whistle
  • Snacks
  • Cell phone adapter to plug into lighter
  • Plastic flashlight and spare batteries
Suggested food items:
  • Raisins in small packets
  • Semi-sweet chocolate in pieces for sharing
  • Miniature candy bars
  • Chewing gum
  • Wrapped hard candies
  • Food bars
  • Canned soup, meat and poultry 
Store bulky and heavy items in an accessible place:
  • 30-foot cord to use as homing line when you must exit the vehicle
  • Booster cables
  • Basic tools
  • Sand, cat litter or other grit in a plastic milk carton
  • Shovel
  • Tow cables or chain
  • Sleeping bag or blankets
  • Road flares and reflectors
  • Snowmobile suit and heavy boots
Remember…unless you need to be out, it is always safer to just stay home!

Mark Lafountain
Public Health Emergency Preparedness Coordinator
Administration Division