ITD offers checklist for staying safe on winter highways

Safe travel on Idaho highways in the winter is no accident. It requires preparation and prudence, according to ITD.

Motorists can alleviate a lot of problems associated with winter travel by checking conditions before leaving home. That can be done easily and quickly by visiting on the Internet or calling 5-1-1 from any line-based telephone or cell phone/smart phone where service is available.

While it is important to approach winter travel armed with the latest weather and highway information, making sure vehicles are winter ready also is extremely important, ITD advises.

Don’t wait until highways are covered with snow and ice to mount winter tires (all-season, studless or studded). Avoid the long lines at tire stores by making appointments early.

Following is a detailed checklist for winter travel safety:

Vehicle condition
The American Automobile Association (AAA) recommends that drivers check their vehicles to ensure equipment is in good winter operating condition. If in doubt, replace parts or equipment. Consult a repair technician for complicated inspections.
Items to check:

  • Battery, cables and battery posts
  • Wipers and windshield washer fluid
  • Antifreeze level
  • Ignition system
  • Thermostat
  • Headlights, hazard lights, brake lights and turn signals
  • Exhaust system
  • Window defroster and interior heater
  • Brakes and brake fluid levels
  • Oil level (if necessary, replace existing oil with a winter grade or SAE 10w/30 viscosity)
  • Winter tires, studs and/or tire chains (make sure you know how to install chains)

Emergency essentials
Carry the following in an emergency box or plastic tub in your vehicle trunk or cargo area of your SUV or pickup:

  • Flashlights with extra batteries
  • Stocked first aid kit (check that items are not missing or outdated)
  • Pocketknife
  • Blanket or sleeping bag
  • Mittens, socks and a wool cap
  • Waterproof matches or butane lighter
  • Waterproof covering like a tarp or poncho
  • Three-pound coffee can or equivalent for heating water
  • A small sack of sand or at litter for generating traction under stuck wheels (also adds weight for better traction and handling)
  • A small shovel
  • Bottled water (but remember it will probably freeze so allow expansion room in the container)
  • Battery booster (jumper) cables
  • Energy bars or other high-energy food like raisins or nuts
  • Waterproof matches or a cigarette lighter
  • Candles (a blanket over your head, body heat and the heat from a single candle can prevent freezing)
  • Basic tool kit, including pliers, screwdrivers, adjustable wrench, tape and wire
  • Paper towels or toilet tissue, good for their designed purpose as well as a fire starter
  • Spare tire
  • Rope and wire, tow chain or a strap
  • Starter fluid, extra oil, gas line deicer and battery booster cables
  • Map of the area where you plan to travel
  • Signaling devices such as emergency flares or a mirror

Emergency procedures
Basic automobile parts can help save a stranded motorist. Put these automotive parts to good use:

  • A hubcap or sun visor can be substituted for a shovel.
  • Seat covers can be used as a blanket.
  • Floor mats can be used to shut out the wind.
  • Engine oil burned in a hubcap creates a smoke signal visible for miles.
  • A car horn can be heard as far as a mile downwind. Three long blasts, ten seconds apart, every 30 minutes, is a standard distress signal.
  • A rear-view mirror can be removed and used as a signaling device.
  • Burn a tire for a signal or for warmth. Release the air pressure and use gasoline or oil for a means to ignite it.

Vehicle handling

  • Drive with low-beam headlights in snow or fog. Keep your headlights, stoplights and turn signals clean. Dirty headlights can cut visibility by 50 percent or more.
  • Hold the steering wheel firmly and avoid making sudden turns. Use a light touch to correct a skid
  • Keep at least three times the normal following distance from vehicles in front of you on snow or ice. If you are being followed too closely, maintain extra distance behind the vehicle ahead so that you can slow down or brake gradually. Plan ahead when approaching intersections to brake smoothly.
  • Do not blaze your own trail on unplowed roads or through snowdrifts. You might get stuck.
  • When you see deer or other animals ahead, slow down and be ready to stop until you are safely past them.
  • Watch out for snowplows and sanders as you round corners and curves.
  • Slow down. Plows and sanders will pull over soon to let traffic by. It is risky to pass on the left of a snowplow because of blowing snow. You should never pass a snowplow on the right because plows spray snow in that direction.

If you have trouble

  • If you start to skid, ease your foot off the accelerator. If you have a manual transmission, push in the clutch. Keep your foot off the brake and steer in the direction the rear of the vehicle is skidding.
  • Your owner's manual will usually recommend the braking technique most effective for your car. Information from the National Safety Council indicates that drivers with front- and rear-wheel-drive vehicles with disc or drum brakes should press on the brake pedal with a slow, steady pressure until just before they lock. When you feel them start to lock, ease off until your wheels are rolling, then squeeze again.
  • If you hit an unexpected patch of ice, ease up on your accelerator and let your vehicle "roll" through the slippery area.

Published 11-18-2011