When one thinks of road trips, idyllic summer scenes usually come to mind — windblown hair, cooling drinks, kids in the backseat, and endless bug splatter on the windshield. But what if you plan to travel long distances in the winter in potentially dangerous weather conditions? It’s a whole different snowball, so to speak, and it requires good planning, packing, and preparation to stay safe and comfortable.
5 Tips for Driving Long Distances Safely in Winter
There's a good chance you'll need to drive in the snow, heavy rain, fog, or through a hailstorm this winter. Don't freak out: there are several things you can do to ensure you make it to your destination safely.
1. Plan Your Route
First things first, map out your route. Will you be driving on a flat interstate or through windy mountain roads? What will the weather be like — sunny but cold or stormy and rainy?
Those two questions will inform your driving. Clearly, driving in the rain on sinewy roads is very dangerous because there's a risk you'll hydroplane on a curve. If possible, change your itinerary to play it safe. If you're stuck with a specific travel plan, at least you'll know what to expect.
2. Winterize Your Vehicle
Before starting your long winter road trip, take the time to prepare your car for winter. Get an oil change, make sure your battery's in good shape, and consider fitting winter tires. Yes, winterizing your vehicle can cost you money but it'll keep you safe in the cold.
3. Prepare Mentally
Every year, over 1,300 people die on icy roads and 116,000 more are injured, according to the Federal Highway Administration. The best way to prevent becoming a sad statistic is to read as much as you can about winter driving and to take frequent breaks. Let yourself relax after being on edge because of adverse weather conditions. Winter driving can be exhausting and drowsy driving is a big no-no.
4. Accept You'll Be Driving Slower
Hopefully, it'll be obvious to all drivers that driving slower in the winter is a must. Especially when driving on dangerously icy roads and hydroplaning-prone highways. Slowing down could be the only thing that prevents a fatal crash. Even if you're itching to get to your destination, accept that winter driving means driving more slowly. Be sure to account for that when planning your road trip.
5. Pack a Winter Emergency Bag
It's better to have it and not need it than need it but not have it. That's our motto when it comes to car emergency kits. It may come in handy when you least expect it.
For example, if you're caught in a blizzard, the best thing you can do is pull over. Make sure other drivers can see you, bundle up with a blanket, and sit tight: it might take a while. In the meantime, having water and food at hand, as well as an external battery for your phone and a flashlight, is crucial. Don't be caught by surprise, be prepared.
Get a Little Help from Defensive Driving Lessons
You can become a pro at winter driving through experience (ahem, the hard way) or by taking defensive driving classes. You'll learn how to deal with the unexpected, from handling aggressive drivers to avoiding collisions and beyond. And since you can learn fully online at your own pace, there's really no reason to put it off. What you learn could one day save your life.