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It’s that time of year when the average temperature has dropped. No matter where you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you experience a sometimes dramatic dip in temperature. What “extreme cold” means varies across the country. In regions that aren’t used to winter weather, near-freezing temperatures are considered “extreme cold,” and in others, the temperature has to be well below zero to get the residents’ attention.
Wherever you live, these extremes will affect your life and health. When temperatures drop below normal, your body cools more rapidly, potentially leading to serious health problems. Extreme cold can be a dangerous situation for people who are susceptible, such as those who work outside, who are stranded, or who live in a home that is poorly insulated or without heat. These stresses will also affect vehicles.
Although you may not live where the snow falls, winter driving can still be dangerous. Additional preparations can help make winter driving safer and less stressful, whether it’s across town or across the state. These preparations can also help you deal with a driving emergency. To help keep you and your employees safe on the road this winter, remember the three Ps of safe winter driving.
The best way to protect yourself and your employees is to plan ahead.
The first step to planning ahead for winter driving is to get your vehicle serviced and prepped before the severe weather begins. It’s good for a qualified mechanic to perform a tune-up on your car. Cold weather puts more of a strain on your vehicle’s battery, so ensure the battery has sufficient voltage for starting in the colder weather. If you live in an area where snow is an issue and use snow tires, it’s time to get them on. No matter what type of tire your vehicle has, it’s also good to inspect the treads and air pressure on a monthly basis. Visibility can be a problem in the winter. It’s important to keep the windshield washer reservoir filled in winter with no-freeze fluids. Ensure the wipers don’t need to be replaced and that both the front and rear defrosters are working correctly.
Prepare for the trip
• Ensure your vehicle is maintained. It’s important to check your vehicle’s battery, tire tread and windshield wipers and fluid before a long trip and periodically through the winter months.
• It’s a good idea to ensure you have items in your vehicles that will help make driving and surviving an emergency easier. This includes a flashlight, jumper cables, abrasive material such as kitty litter, a shovel, a snowbrush/ice scraper, and blankets. If going on a longer trip, it will be helpful to include food, water, medication and a cell phone.
• If your vehicle stops or stalls unexpectedly, stay with it, and don’t overexert yourself. It can be helpful to mark the antenna or windows with something brightly colored to make your vehicle easier for other motorists to see. If you keep your vehicle running, be certain the exhaust pipe is clear of snow, and only run the vehicle long enough to keep warm.
• Winter travel can be unpredictable. Always allow for plenty of time to reach your destination, and check the weather before you leave. It’s also helpful to let others know your route and what time you plan to arrive.
Prevent injury from accidents
• Always ensure everyone in the vehicle is using a safety belt.
• Never mix drugs and alcohol with driving. This is even more important in winter because of the unpredictable conditions of snow and ice.
• Slow down and allow for longer following distances between you and other vehicles.
• It’s important to get plenty of rest before a trip. Stop for a break at least every three hours, and change drivers if at all possible.
•Keep your eyes open for pedestrians. It gets dark earlier in the winter, so it can be more difficult to see people walking along the roadway. Stay alert.
Advanced preparation will make driving in the winter a much easier and safer proposition, whether you live in Florida, Alaska or places in between.
KELLY is a safety and health specialist with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. She can be reached at 800.745.4818 and [email protected]. Joe O’Connor edited this article.