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Winter Driving Hazards and How to Avoid Them- According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the leading cause of death during winter storms are transportation accidents.

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Preparing yourself and your car to handle the many winter driving hazards all drivers face will help keep you, your loved ones, and other drivers on the road safe.

Winter driving can be extremely hazardous due to poor road conditions or reduced visibility from heavy or blowing snow or rain. During these times, travel is difficult if not dangerous, and often not recommended. However, many people still venture outdoors not knowing what they will encounter. This is why being properly prepared is a must–it may save your life and the lives of those traveling with you.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the leading cause of death during winter storms are transportation accidents. Preparations for the winter season and knowing how to react if stranded or lost on the road are the keys to safe winter traveling.

Preferably before winter arrives; or least before a trip, have your car inspected to be sure it is ready for the road conditions. You can do this yourself or take it to a qualified mechanic. Check the battery, wipers and fluid, thermostat, brakes, ignition system, antifreeze, exhaust system, lights, oil level (remember to have winter grade oil), heater and defrosters. Make sure everything is operational to keep you safe throughout the cold weather or your trip.

Don’t forget to check the tires. Make sure the tires have adequate tread. All-weather radials are usually adequate for most winter conditions. However, some jurisdictions require that to drive on their roads, vehicles must be equipped with chains or snow tires with studs. Keep at least a half tank of gas in the car during the winter season.

Prepare an emergency kit to keep in the back of your car. This will ensure that you are prepared in the event that you get stuck in the snow. Things to include in the kit:

Ice scraper

Small broom

Small shovel

Set of tire chains or traction mats

Kitty litter or a bag of sand (to give traction if you get stuck in snow or ice)

Blankets or a sleeping bag

Flashlight with extra batteries

Flares or warning triangles

Plastic bags (for sanitation)

First aid kit

Tool kit

Matches/candles

Jumper cables

Bright cloth to use as a flag

Help sign for back window

Extra hat and gloves or mittens

Necessary medications

Canned food (with hand can opener) and bottled water to sustain you

A book, games, cards to keep you busy and calm in the event you get stuck

Charged cell phone (always carry this, especially in the winter)

If you are stranded, you may feel helpless, stuck in the snow in a lonely place, but there are things you can do to survive until help reaches you.

Stay in the car.

Do not leave the car to search for assistance unless help is visible within 100 yards. You may become disoriented and lost in blowing and drifting snow.

Display the help sign.

Hang the brightly colored cloth on the radio antenna and raise the hood.

Occasionally run engine to keep warm.

Turn on the car’s engine for about 10 minutes each hour. Run the heater when the car is running. Also, turn on the car’s dome light when the car is running.

Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning. Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow, and open a downwind window slightly for ventilation.

Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.

Do minor exercises to keep up circulation.

Try not to stay in one position for too long. If more than one person is in the car, take turns sleeping.

For warmth, huddle together.

Use newspapers, maps, and even the removable car mats for added insulation.

Cold weather puts an added strain on the heart. Avoid overexertion, such as trying to dig a car out of the snow.

Be aware of symptoms of dehydration.

Listen to the Weather Report before heading out. It can be a life saver.

Pay attention to the weather terms used.

Most used Winter Weather Terms

Winter Storm Warning: Issued when dangerous weather such as heavy snow, heavy freezing rain, or heavy sleet is about to happen or occurring. Winter Storm Warnings are usually issued 12 to 24 hours before the weather is expected to begin.

Winter Storm Watch: The possibility of a blizzard, heavy snow, heavy freezing rain, or heavy sleet is in the weather outlook. These Storm Watches are usually issued 12 to 48 hours before the beginning of a Winter Storm.

Winter Storm Outlook: Issued preceding a Winter Storm Watch. The Outlook is given when meteorologists believe circumstances can create a storm and are normally issued 3 to 5 days in advance.

Blizzard Warning: Issued for sustained or gusty winds of 35 mph or more, and falling or blowing snow limits visibility to one quarter mile or less; this situation should last for at least three hours.

Lake Effect Snow Warning: Issued when heavy lake effect snow is pending or occurring.

Wind Chill Warning: Issued when wind chill temperatures are anticipated to be perilous to life within several minutes of exposure.

Wind Chill Advisory: Issued when wind chill temperatures are expected to cause considerable difficulty to life with protracted exposure, and, if care is not taken could lead to life threatening exposure.

Winter Weather Advisories: Issued for accumulations of snow, freezing rain, freezing drizzle, and sleet which will cause considerable problems and could lead to critical situations.

Bad weather in winter driving requires you to be extra vigilant and prepared, but the most important tip for winter driving is slow down! Always allow plenty of time to get where you are going, and get off the road before you get stuck by severe weather.

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