Seven Tips to Keep Your Winter Drive Safe

Over the holiday weekend, states from the East Coast to the West Coast were dumped with snow...

Here in Baltimore, we saw our first significant snowfall in two years. Parts of Utah saw almost four feet of snow in just one day. And a snowstorm knocked out power for thousands of folks across Oregon.

As I write, lots of kids are enjoying a snow day. But lots of adults still have to venture out into the winter weather regardless of the forecast.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American spends nearly an hour a day commuting. Most of us drive about 32 miles to and from the office.

On a normal day, your commute is an annoyance. On a wintry day, it can be dangerous.

Two years ago, hundreds of drivers were stranded on Interstate 95 in Virginia when snow caused traffic to completely halt. Some folks were stuck in their cars for more than 20 hours.

It sounds extreme, but I bet those drivers didn't expect to be spending a night in their car when they left work that Monday.

So, if you need to be on the roadways when there's bad weather in the forecast – follow these seven tips to keep yourself safe.

1. Clean your headlights. A few years ago, I saw an article from AAA that the average 11-year-old vehicle's headlights generate just about 20% of the illumination as new headlights. That leads to a lot of dangerous situations, particularly in bad weather that reduces visibility.

A few years ago, I had my assistant test out a few products, and the best results for cleaning the headlights on my then-14-year-old Hyundai came from toothpaste. All you need is toothpaste (any kind), a soft cloth, and some water. Scrub the headlight using a damp cloth with toothpaste and wipe it off with water. This method should remove about 75% of the grime. If this doesn't work, replacing the headlight's plastic is your next best option.

2. Throw an old blanket in your trunk. Even better, keep an old pair of gloves in there, too. You know I like to prepare for the worst... Having a blanket and gloves with you in case you get stranded can make a big difference in your safety.

3. Stock your emergency kit. In addition to the blanket, be sure to pack the following:

  • Ice scraper
  • Mini shovel
  • Jumper cables
  • Water and snacks (like granola bars)
  • First-aid kit
  • Flashlight
  • Sand or salt for traction
  • Flares or other signals

Be sure to think about passengers, too. Pack an extra blanket, food, and water for each person (or pet) you usually travel with.

4. Keep your tires full. Air contracts in the cold, reducing your tire pressure. This keeps you from having the best traction on slippery winter roads. Many gas stations offer free air-refilling stations with built-in pressure gauges.

If you want to fill your tires wherever you are, you can buy your own pump. Our franchise manager, Laura Bente, bought the EPAuto Portable Air Compressor Pump. This pump plugs right into your car's 12-volt outlet and only takes a few minutes to fill your tires to the right pressure.

If you live in a particularly icy or snowy climate, consider chains for your tires as well.

5. Check your car battery and connectors. Car batteries more than three years old are more likely to die in the cold. You can pick up a battery tester to check them. Also, make sure you have jumper cables in your vehicle.

6. Check your exhaust. If snow or ice clogs your car's exhaust pipe, you risk filling the inside of your car with deadly carbon monoxide. Check and clear it often.

7. Drive safely. This should be a no-brainer, but in winter weather, don't use cruise control. You want to be able to react quickly to changes in road conditions. Similarly, it takes longer to stop on wet, snowy, and icy roads. Give yourself time and space to brake safely.

According to Les Schwab Tire Centers, if you're driving at 35 mph, you need to double your braking distance for wet roads, triple it for packed snow, and multiply it by 10 for icy roads. So, if it takes you about 75 feet to stop on a dry road, you need 750 feet in ice – that's about 50 car lengths.

Do you have any other winter safety tips to share? Send them our way at [email protected].

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Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
January 18, 2024