safe drivingThe leaves are falling, the wind is blowing, the temperature is dropping. We are in autumn. As we prepare our homes, gardens, boats, or camps for the winter ahead we must also prepare ourselves and our families when out on the road.

Slippery conditions and freezing temperatures are hazards alone, but they become even scarier when accompanied with a damaged, stuck, malfunctioning vehicle far from home.

The next few months are peak travel times for those visiting loved ones over the holiday season, so it’s wise to keep emergency essentials in your vehicle for critical situations and remember the basics.

Remember Driving Basics

Vermonters are not novices when it comes to conquering the road in poor weather. However, we can all get tripped up when bad weather strikes. Here are a few driving basics to remember and to pass along to younger and new drivers:

  • Maintain distance –  Be sure to increase following distance from the car in front of you.
  • Keep the windows clean – Maintain clear windows for visibility.
  • Slow down – Adjust speeds for snow and ice, and always have an escape path planned if the car in front suddenly skids or stops.
  • Take a driving course – Winter driving courses, although costly, offer excellent techniques for expertly managing winter conditions for anyone wishing to sharpen their skills on the road.

Fill Your Car With Emergency Essentials

Sometimes accidents and breakdowns are unavoidable. Here are a few items to keep in your car at all times to help you through most situations:

  1. Cat litter – Can be used for tire traction on ice, and useful for cleaning up oils spills.
  2. Shovel – Hands cannot dig fast and quickly get numb, leading to frostbite. Collapsible camping shovels work well.
  3. Map or Atlas – This includes the ability to use it. GPS and cellular phones may die but paper lasts. Know your route at all times. Paper can also be stuffed inside winter jackets and boots for extra warmth if needed.
  4. Reflective vest, glow sticks, and a flashlight or headlamp – If you need to walk for gas or help, you should be visible to approaching vehicles. Glow sticks can be purchased at dollar stores and placed around necks and wrists for added visibility. They can also be waved to signal for help.
  5. Blanket, hand/foot warmers, and socks – Extremities will freeze first. Hand and foot warmers are cheap and sold at most sporting goods stores and gas stations.
  6. Boots, mittens, hat, winter jacket and pants – Also in case you need to walk for help. Don’t break the bank; save some money and pick these up at a second hand store.
  7. Nourishment – This may include things like granola bars, trail mix, and soup crackers.
  8. Napkins and/or roll of toilet paper – When nature calls, it is best to be ready; toilet paper can be used as makeshift bandages as well.
  9. Water bottle/canteen – Dehydration exists in winter as well as summer, and snow can be melted quickly if needed.
  10. First Aid Kit – For minor cuts, abrasions, and blisters.
  11. Car phone charger – Keep in the console at all times, in case the car battery has remaining voltage.
  12. Heavy duty garbage bag – Can be used as a rain jacket or tarp, and to haul heavy items on snow.

These items can all fit into a large plastic bin, and stored in the trunk or cargo area of vehicles. Also the list should be tailored for individual needs, including infants or elderly passengers. When driving this winter, take care and be prepared.

Carlen Smith, MD, is a Family Medicine Resident at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

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