As the holiday season approaches, it’s the peak season for winter driving. While traveling wherever and whenever one wants to go is certainly a perk for those who are retired, winter driving can be a real challenge at best and downright dangerous at worst.

Here are some tips from to ensure you arrive safe and sound at your family gathering this holiday season:

Tip #1- Check your tires

Bald tires are the number one cause of sliding off treacherous icy or snowy winter roads.  Have your tire tread measured by a professional, and get new tires, whenever recommended. Make sure that your tires are inflated properly. Another option is to be prepared with snow chains—usually recommended for driving through the mountains during the winter months.  But, if it comes to needing chains, you may want to ask yourself if it’s worth the risk of driving.   Perhaps purchasing an airline ticket is the safest route when you need to get somewhere that involves driving through mountainous terrain.   

Tip #2- Slow down

Most of us who grew up in the Midwest winters can remember taking driving lessons from our parents.  Experienced drivers—like our dads—would utter the words, “when it’s slippery out, don’t get in a hurry.” In fact, slowing down is the number one principle of arriving safely through a winter snow storm.  It doesn’t matter if you are driving a Ford Escape, or a MAC truck, they all equally slide off the road–given the right conditions and speed momentum.  The idea is to be able to stop the vehicle slowly—which requires more distance on snowy or icy roads due to reduced traction.
Tip #3- Increase your driving distance

Increasing the driving distance between you and the other vehicles on the road will give you more time to stop your vehicle, particularly if the car in front of you mistakenly slams on the brakes. Unlike driving in the Daytona 500, slow and steady wins the race, when it comes to winter driving.

Tip #4- Carry a Winter Emergency Kit in the Car

Winter driving 101 in Minnesota involves putting together an emergency kit. The kit is designed to provide much needed items in case your vehicle slides off the road or gets stuck in a snow bank for extended periods, before someone can come to the rescue.  Here’s what you need to include:

  • Blankets (to stay warm if the car dies)
  • A coffee can with candles (to warm up the car and provide light)
  • Trail mix, or granola bars and bottled water (for obvious reasons)
  • A flashlight and batteries
  • A bag of sand (to provide traction for getting out of a snow bank)
  • A cell phone (which hopefully will be in a working service area)
  • A first aid kit
  • Extra gloves and boots
  • A snow scraper/snow brush
  • Jumper cables
  • Road flares
  • Tire chains
  • Snow shovel

Tip #5- Ensure the brakes work properly

Have your brakes professionally checked to ensure they are working properly.  Avoid braking abruptly when driving on slippery winter roads.  If you have a manual transmission in your vehicle, downshift to slow the car down and avoid using the brakes if possible.  If your vehicle is equipped with 4-wheel drive, shift into that gear when driving on icy or snowy roads.

Tip #6- Be aware of safe winter driving principles

Know the rules of what to do when your vehicle begins to slide—such as turning initially toward the direction you are sliding, instead of away from it, to regain control of the vehicle. 

Tip #7- Drive during the daylight hours

During winter storms, a driver’s visibility can be seriously impaired, driving during the night time hours, makes visibility even worse.   In addition, it’s very tiring to drive in a heavy snow storm, it’s much safer to plan all your driving hours during the day when you are more alert and can see better. 

Tip #8- Prolong the trip if necessary

Last, but certainly not least, if the roads are really bad—such as those that are severely iced over– consider pulling over to wait it out.  Although arriving a day late may not be the most optimal scenario, it beats not arriving at all.  Consider your safety and the safety of your passengers, above all else.

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