Minnesota is no stranger to cold temperatures, heavy snow and icy roads. If you and your family are traveling this winter, here are some tips to stay safe during your trip.
Before you go
Before you set out on a car trip, whether short or long, pack a winter survival kit. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety recommends you keep the following items in your car at all times during the winter months:
- Metal coffee can, candles and matches to melt snow for drinking water.
- Brightly-colored bandana or fabric and/or a whistle to alert others of your location.
- Paper and writing utensils, or games to keep kids occupied.
- First-aid kit.
- Battery-powered or crank-powered light, and don’t forget to replace the batteries annually.
- Large plastic bags and safety pins to keep your feet dry and insulated.
- Non-perishable foods and snacks such as energy bars.
When possible, drivers should also store a shovel; extra warm clothes and winter gear; jumper cables; tow chains; blanket or sleeping bag; and a container of sand, salt, or cat litter for traction.
Always completely clean off all of your windows of snow and ice before you drive. Be sure to also clear snow on top of the vehicle because when you start driving the snow may shift and obstruct your view.
Check road conditions in advance. You can do so by dialing 511, visiting www.511mn.org or downloading MN DOT’s 511 app to your smart phone. Always call your destination ahead of time so someone knows when to expect you.
On the road
Keeping your family safe while on the road in icy and wet conditions takes a little extra planning. The Minnesota Department of Transportation recommends the following tips when you’re behind the wheel:
- Turn headlights on.
- Always wear your seat belt.
- Turn off cruise control. If you hit a patch of ice, the cruise control can cause your wheels to spin faster, which may put you in danger of losing control of your vehicle.
- Stay at least five car lengths behind the vehicle in front of you to give yourself extra space if you need to stop.
- Be aware of snow plows. Plows turn frequently, sometimes with little or no warning.
- Be comfortable with your vehicle’s braking system. Never pump anti-lock brakes, instead, apply firm pressure and steer in the direction you want to go.
- Using a lower gear can help slow your car down.
- Make turns as square as possible. This reduces the length of the arc on turns and can prevent your car from sliding around corners.
If you do get stranded, don’t panic. Stay with your car and don’t keep it running if your exhaust pipe isn’t completely clear of snow. If you do keep the car running, open a window slightly to reduce your family’s risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
At your destination
As you and your family get out of the car, be aware of traffic passing nearby and be aware of the conditions under your feet. Assume there’s ice underneath the snow and take precautions so you don’t fall.
- Point your feet out slightly, like a penguin, to increase your center of gravity.
- Bend your knees and walk flat-footed.
- Do not keep your hands in your pockets because your arms can be used to help keep your balance.
- If you do fall, try landing on your side or bottom, and never brace your fall with your knees, wrists, or neck. Try to relax your muscles as you fall to reduce injury.
If you’re planning on going on frozen water, please stay safe and understand the conditions of the ice. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has great tips on what to consider if you’re headed out on the lakes.