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Preparation, Time Key to Safe Winter Travel

by Annalisa Negrea, RN

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Cold weather comes with winters in Pennsylvania. It’s important to remember that a little preparation and allowing for extra time can go a long way to keep you safe when traveling this winter.

Severe weather can be both frightening and dangerous for drivers. When it comes to safely traveling in any type of winter weather it’s important for travelers to consider a few things.

  • Check the weather and prepare for the conditions. Taking this time to have a travel plan including weather can often help you avoid having to deal with unexpected weather conditions. If severe weather is in the forecast, consider the risk and need to travel.
  • Avoid driving while you’re fatigued. Getting the proper amount of rest before taking on winter weather tasks reduces driving risks. It can be challenging enough to navigate safely in unpleasant weather, try not to add unnecessary risk.
  • Prepare your vehicle. Make certain your tires are properly inflated and when necessary have your vehicle equipped with special winter tires designed to help aid with traction in winter conditions. Keep your gas tank at least half full. Although you may have planned for gas stops along your route, weather conditions may cause you to alter your route, burn fuel faster than expected, or even cause extended delays. If the weather is severe enough, some gas stations may close. It’s safer to plan ahead while you can.
  • Dress appropriately in case you need to get out of the vehicle. When you’re outdoors layering is your best protection from the cold weather. While it’s important to stay warm, you don’t want to dress too warmly. Too many layers can cause your body to sweat, as it thinks that it’s warmer than it is. When you begin to perspire in cold temperatures, the sweat can then begin to evaporate, causing your body to lose heat faster than it can produce it. Also, be sure to have proper footwear available in your vehicle.

No matter how severe the conditions, here’s a few best practices to consider:

  • Clear your car of all snow/ice prior to setting off.
  • Let others know when you are leaving/your estimated time of arrival.
  • Drive defensively. Slow down and maintain a safe distance from other cars, scan your surroundings regularly, and be aware of dangerous road conditions: snow drifting, high winds, freezing rain/sleet, and the potential for icing.
  • Pack a winter travel safety kit in case of a car breakdown or roads becoming impassable: car cell phone charger, blankets, flashlight, extra batteries, ice scraper, flare/help flag, basic first aid kit, jumper cables, food, and water. Keep food, water, and batteries in a warm area of your vehicle to avoid freezing.
  • Stay alert. Resist distractions like the radio, eating, or answering your phone while traveling.
  •  Most importantly, no matter the conditions, always wear your seat belt.

Winter road trips – even short ones – are a great way to spend time with family and friends, and winter offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation and fun. Just be sure to plan ahead to ensure a safe and happy time is had by all.

Annalisa Negrea is a registered nurse and injury prevention coordinator with UPMC Susquehanna’s Trauma Program.