Question of the Week

November 17, 2008


For many, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the winter travel season. While it is still technically fall, parts of the country have already seen their first snowfalls. With winter weather comes winter driving -- and the need to be prepared for whatever varied driving conditions might be created as the various forms of precipitation produce slick, dangerous roads.

"The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and Washington State Patrol (WSP) advise drivers to plan now for winter driving. ... 'Every year we see a large number of spin-outs and collisions on the first snowfall of the season,' said Trooper Curt Boyle of the Washington State Patrol. 'These often lead to a citation for driving too fast for conditions, as well as property damage and injuries. Negligent driving is another citation that often comes with the first snow of the season.'"

For those who will be driving in areas where weather conditions can be unpredictable (or predictably treacherous), it is good idea to be prepared.

While the best way to deal with nasty winter conditions is to avoid them, it is not always easy to know what conditions one might encounter when traveling to a different state, or even a different nearby county. "National Traffic and Road Closure Information" is available for those who want to investigate ahead of time what they might encounter along the way:

No matter what the conditions are, some "rules of the road" are good to keep in mind.

"Stay alert, slow down and stay in control -- the three key elements of safe winter driving. Drive according to highway and weather conditions. Keep a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. Avoid situations where you may have to brake suddenly on a slippery surface."

For those who find themselves living in (or driving through) places where there is the potential to get stranded, it is helpful to make sure that the car is properly prepared for the conditions before the conditions become potentially treacherous. It is easier to find (and remember to include) everything without the added stress of rushing out the door into the bad weather (and the added traffic troubles it can bring).

"Always fill the gasoline tank before entering open country, even for a short distance, and stop to fill-up long before the tank begins to run low. Keeping your tank as full as possible will minimize condensation, providing the maximum advantage in case of trouble. A Citizens Band (CB) radio and/or cellular phone can be very useful to you or another stranded motorist in case of an emergency.

  • Clear all windows and lights of frost and snow.
  • Drive with your headlights on.
  • Stock your car with basic winter driving equipment: A scraper and brush, small shovel, jumper cables, tow chain and a bag of sand or cat litter for tire traction.
  • Also include road flares, a blanket, heavy boots, warm clothing, and flashlight with batteries."

Properly stocking the car with emergency supplies when the weather is fine will mean one less thing to worry about when the weather turns bad. Making sure a car is safe to drive will not only protect its driver and passengers, but also others who will be sharing the road.

No matter how well prepared and careful some drivers are, they are still sharing the road with others who can lose control (and then there are those tricky patches of black ice that can catch even the best of drivers off guard). Whatever precautions have been taken, there is still the chance that road and/ or weather conditions can leave drivers stranded.

For longer trips, or just for those traveling a few miles from home, having a few necessities in the car can make waiting for help once stranded a lot more tolerable. Many may have heard the general advice:

"Carry food and water. Store a supply of high energy 'munchies' and several bottles of water."

For those who prefer a more specific list, emergency kit suggestions include:

The ideal situation is to never need such supplies, but it is better to have them and not need them, than to get stranded and wish they were there.

"If you are stranded in a winter storm:

  • Stay in your vehicle. Walking away in a storm is very dangerous. You can lose your way, wander out of reach and/or become exhausted. Your vehicle is your best shelter.
  • Keep fresh air in your vehicle. It's better to be chilly and awake than to be comfortably warm and be overcome with carbon monoxide fumes. Keep your exhaust pipe free of snow and run your engine only for short periods of time, leaving a downwind window slightly open.
  • Keep warm without fuel. Keep your blood circulating freely. Loosen tight clothing and change positions frequently. Move your arms and legs, massage fingers and toes; tuck your hands between your legs or under your armpits. Cuddle with each other to share heat. Elevate your feet to improve circulation.
  • Call 911 if you have a cell phone. Describe your location, the condition of those in the car and what happened. Stay on the line until you know who you have spoken with and what will happen next."

Questions of the Week:
What should you do to prepare your car for winter driving? How might this preparation differ for those who live in a different part of the country? If you are planning to travel away from home, what can you do to make sure that your car (or rental car) is properly prepared for any potentially bad weather? How might tips for winter car preparation be useful for people who live in areas where other natural disasters might cause them to evacuate their homes and/or be stuck in their cars?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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