Winter has arrived in many parts of the country, and that means a hazardous situation awaits you nearly every time you get behind the wheel. You may know how to drive in snow, but do you know what to do if you were stuck in snow?
Recently, drivers on I-90 near Buffalo, N.Y., were trapped for up to 12 hours when a massive blizzard hit the area. Some cars were literally buried in snow. If you were caught in a situation like that, would you know how to handle yourself?
You don’t have to be out in the country to encounter a hazardous situation. You can get socked in while driving home from work one day. If you’re stuck, you can bet that hundreds of other motorists are, as well. Help could be hours away.
Every situation is unique, but the following guidelines apply in all situations, and could save your life. I highly recommend you copy this article to your laptop or other device. You’re likely to have that with you, but you may not have access to the Internet. A PDF copy is available here.
“Safety is no accident,” as the old saying goes. We discussed that before in 10 Safety Rules For Off-Road Driving and in a related column, Your Gear Is Not Complete Without An Emergency Packet! Winter presents its own set of hazards, which require additional preparation. It starts with a survival kit. Make sure yours includes at least some of these items.
More of a collection of items, a winter survival kit includes extra food and clothing, items to help you prepare food or water, signaling/communications gear, and some means to free yourself.
Food should be dry, packaged goods that have a long shelf life. These include granola bars, snack mix/trail mix, canned nuts, graham crackers, and hard candy. Thick canned food, like ravioli, may be added. Avoid soups as the can may freeze and burst. For a few extra dollars you can add military style MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) available on line and at military surplus stores.
Make sure the packages and cans are easy to open. It’s unlikely you’ll have a can opener or scissors with you.
Extra clothing can include boots, gloves, a blanket or sleeping bag, and a hat. This stuff can be bulky, so choose wisely. I pack a Thinsulate™ sleeping bag. It’s warm but thin, and compresses into a nice, small size (more likely to still be in the vehicle when I need it).
It’s easy to get dehydrated in the winter, so you should carry some liquids. Even if you normally carry a water bottle, be prepared to produce water by melting snow. (Avoid eating snow, as that will lower your body temperature.) Pack an empty soup or coffee can along with a small stove or burner.
Jetboil® offers a line of nifty mini cookers. They work great with food, as well.
If you become stuck, you’re likely to reach for your cell phone. Keep an extra battery pack or the cord for tapping into the car’s cigarette lighter. You should also keep some fresh flashlight batteries.
Pack a red or orange flag that you can attach to your antenna. That will help rescuers spot your vehicle. (If you don’t have a flag, a large piece of fabric will work.) A small shovel can come in handy, also. Buy the kind with a curved blade and collapsible handle.
Ham and CB radio equipment can be very useful, especially when you’re outside of cell range. If possible, take along some radio gear (but remember that ham radio requires a license). Flares are useful, too, especially at night. Have one or two in your vehicle.
Consider packing small pieces of carpet or a set of Sand Ladders. Also, being stuck can be boring. Have some reading material or puzzle books with you to pass the time. Speaking of reading material, newspapers and magazines can be used for body insulation.
Get in the habit of keeping your gas tank at least half full. You’ll need the fuel to run your engine on occasion. More on that later.
Another “item” you can pack is awareness. It’s easy to get distracted or start daydreaming while behind the wheel. Memorize mile markers or street/highway signs as you pass by. You’ll help rescuers immensely if you can tell dispatch where you are. A GPS is useful to pin point your location.
Being stuck in a snowstorm can be a terrifying experience. With the proper preparation and response, you can enhance your chances of surviving and being rescued.
Tom Severin, 4x4 Coach, teaches 4WD owners how to confidently and safely use their vehicles to the fullest extent in difficult terrain and adverse driving conditions. Visit 4x4training.com to develop or improve your driving skill. Copyright 2010, Badlands Off-Road Adventures, Inc.