Winter Car Safety Tips

IDOT Winter Road Conditions

Thanks to Kari Thevenot for submitting this helpful resource.

Prepare your vehicle for winter

  • Tire pressure and tread. The air pressure in your tires can be affected by drops in pressure. Be sure to check your tires periodically and adjust when necessary. The recommended levels can usually be found inside your driver’s side door. Also, check the treads on your tires to ensure that they don’t need to be replaced.
  • Windshield wipers and fluid. This is a good time of year to replace your windshield wiper blades. Special blades are available just for the winter months. Also, make sure that you have plenty of windshield wiper fluid to make it through the season. It can be quite frustrating to get that slushy mess on your windshield, only to be out of fluid!
  • Light check. Make sure all of your lights are working properly, which includes hazard lights, front and rear headlights, and turn signals. It’s especially important that other cars are able to see you.winter lane
  • Fluid levels and battery check. When you take your car in for its next oil change, have them top off your fluid levels, test the battery and ensure antifreeze is at its proper level.
  • Wash. A thorough car wash with a coat of wax is a great way to protect against some of road salt that can be damaging. An occasional wash during the winter months is also a good idea.
  • Weigh it down. If you have a rear wheel drive vehicle, place a bag of sand in the trunk to give your vehicle a little more stability. 

Make sure you’re ready for an emergency

  • Don’t drive on fumes. During the winter months, keep your gas tank at least halfway full to prevent being stranded.
  • Cell phone. Keep your cell phone with you at all times, as well as a car charger.
  • Ice scrapers and shovels. Two ice scrapers can be helpful – one with a short handle and one with a long handle. Also, a shovel can be handy if you are snowed in away from home.
  • First aid kit. For treatment of minor injuries, keep a first aid kit in your vehicle at all times. These can be purchased at drug stores, or you can search online for the recommended contents and assemble your own kit. Check the kit every so often to make sure the kit is always fully stocked.
  • Emergency car kit. This kit will contain items such as battery cables, flares, flashlight, and even a fire extinguisher.
  • Food and comfort supplies. If you’ll be going on any significant travels, stock your car with extra clothing, gloves, hats, blankets, bottled water and snacks. An emergency blanket (also referred to as a “silver blanket” or “space blanket”) can reflect 90% of your body heat. They come in tiny packages and can be very helpful in a situation where warmth needs to be maintained. These can be purchased at any sporting goods store, or camping supply section of stores such as Walmart and Target ($2-3 each).
  • Store items where they can be reached. If you are stranded, you may not be able to exit your vehicle in order to retrieve your emergency supplies in the trunk. Keep the essentials where they can be reached without having to get to the trunk. 

Reaching your vehicle safely

  • Keep your hands out of your pockets. If you are walking on potentially slick surfaces, there is no way to cushion your fall if your hands are in your pockets.
  • Penguin walk. Adjust your gait whenever it is slick. Take small steps. Don’t try to walk fast. Smaller steps will allow you to recover more easily in the event that you start to slip.
  • Wear appropriate footwear. Use footwear that has an appropriate tread for the weather.
  • Avoid frostbite. If you’ll be in the elements for a significant amount of time, ensure that all exposed body parts are covered adequately. Signs of frostbite are: numbness, hard skin, white and waxy appearance. If you see these signs, get indoors immediately. Do not attempt to thaw frostbitten skin, especially if there is a chance of refreezing. Seek the help of a healthcare provider immediately.
  • Watch out for traffic. If you have to walk in areas where there is traffic, walk towards oncoming vehicles so that you can see what is coming toward you. Keep a look out for vehicles that may be losing control and move clear as quickly as possible.
  • Bright clothing. Wear bright or reflective clothing if walking at night.
  • Sunglasses. Sunlight reflecting on the snow can be blinding. Wear sunglasses during the daytime, even if the sun isn’t shining, to keep some of the glare away.

Safe driving during the wintersnow

  • Stay home. Avoid driving if the roads are dangerous. Weigh the risks. What will happen if you decide to stay home?
  • Minimize distractions. If you need to use your phone, pull into a safe location. It is impossible to concentrate on safe driving if you are having a conversation on the phone. This applies to texting, which is already against the law in Illinois.
  • Plan ahead. If there is severe winter weather, plan your route accordingly. Check highway conditions prior to your departure. Click HERE for IDOT’s map of Illinois roadways. Leave earlier than you normally would – being in a hurry and travelling treacherous roads are not a good combination!
  • Tell your family. Let family members and/or friends know where you’re going.
  • Watch for bridges and overpasses. Freezing happens in these areas before the rest of roadway. If there is danger of ice, slow down upon approaching a bridge or overpass.
  • Don’t floor it. Don’t accelerate or brake too quickly. Allow more time to brake than you normally would. Think ahead at all times.
  • But don’t go too slow. It is possible to go too slow and end up stuck in the snow! If you must drive through snow, stay at a consistent speed and don’t stop completely until you’re past the tricky area.
  • SUVs aren’t foolproof. While SUVs are wonderful to have in the snow, don’t take for granted that something could still happen. All winter driving rules apply to SUVs!
  • Beware of trucks. Semi trucks are really big! And they can spray a lot of snow onto passing vehicles. Use caution when passing trucks.
  • Keep headlights on. Illinois law states that you must have your headlights on any time your windshield wipers are being used. But this also should apply to driving in bad winter weather. It’s crucial that other cars are able to see you.
  • No tailgating. It’s foolish to tailgate in ideal weather, but it’s all the more important in inclement weather to ensure enough space between you and the vehicle in front of you.
  • Nix the cruise control. If you’re driving on potentially slick surfaces, avoid using cruise control – this will give you more control of your speeds and the ability to reduce speeds more quickly.
  • Use your seat belt. This should be a given any time you get in a vehicle!
  • Threshold braking. Use firm and steady pressure on your brakes. Don’t slam them on, and don’t “ride” your brakes. Riding your brakes is dangerous and also gives drivers behind you the impression that you’re stopping when you’re really not.
  • Be careful on hills. When going UP a hill, don’t stop. But don’t try to accelerate too quickly either. Stay as far to the right as you safely can when you can’t see what’s coming from the other side of the hill. When you reach the top of the hill, reduce your speed significantly and proceed slowly down the hill.

If you or someone else becomes stranded….

  • Stay calm. Even though it can be a scary situation, staying calm will help.
  • Awareness of location. Look for landmarks, road signs, mile markers – anything that will give responders a good idea of your location.
  • Call for help. In Illinois, you can call *999 from your cell phone to report an incident. If there are injuries, call 9-1-1.
  • Stay with your vehicle. Unless you can safely and quickly get help, stay with your vehicle. Hypothermia can occur very quickly in cold temperatures.
  • Be visible. Turn on your hazard lights, but for short amounts of time so that it doesn’t drain your battery. If you have a flashlight in your car, turn it on towards the road. If you have the 5-in-1 tool mentioned above, get it out and turn on the red flashing light. If it’s at night, you can use your dome light, as it uses little energy.Fir in winter landscape
  • Stay warm. Get out your extra clothing, blankets, emergency (mylar) blanket and retain warmth as soon as possible.
  • Snow removal. Don’t overdo the removal of snow and trying to push your vehicle, especially if you don’t have a lot of help. Make sure no snow is covering or is inside the exhaust pipe.
  • Run the engine sporadically. Turn on your vehicle just long enough to take the chill out of the air. This will help to conserve your gas supply.
  • If someone else is stranded. You will possibly encounter a vehicle that has slipped off of the road. If you want to help, first decide, “Can I help this person safely?” If it is so treacherous that you could possibly become injured yourself, call *999 (Illinois) or 9-1-1 (if you think there could be injuries) and give them as much detail as you can. Don’t put yourself in danger by entering a scene that is unsafe. When you approach the vehicle, ask them if they are ok. If you have been trained in First Aid and/or CPR, you can use those skills to help. Otherwise, provide reassurance to them that help is on the way. You can obtain items from your vehicle that might help keep them comfortable – blankets, hats, gloves, etc. Do not move someone from a vehicle if you suspect they might have any sort of traumatic injury – moving them could make their injuries worse.





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