Winter Is Getting Serious: What to Know if You’re Driving

Before you venture out into uncertain winter conditions, build your car’s emergency kit and know safe winter driving procedures. It could save your life.

Winter is setting in for real, with Winter Storm Jonas heading into the mid-Atlantic and Eastern Seaboard in coming days — with meteorologists predicting of as much as 2 feet of snow in some places, coastal flooding, icy roads and high winds. You get the idea.

The question is, are you prepared? One thing to consider is to avoid being out on the roads when conditions are hazardous. However, if you feel you need to drive, be sure to check your auto’s emergency kit. If you’re ever stranded, the supplies will at least make you more comfortable and could save your life.

Here are ideas for your car kit from our often snowbound friends at

  • Shovel, snow scraper and small broom
  • Flashlight with extra batteries (make sure batteries are fresh)
  • Battery-powered radio
  • Water
  • Raisins and mini candy bars
  • Extra hats, socks, mittens
  • First aid kit with pocketknife
  • Necessary medications
  • Hand-warming packets
  • Blankets or sleeping bag
  • Tow chain or rope
  • Road salt, sand or cat litter for traction
  • Jumper cables
  • Emergency flares and reflectors
  • Fluorescent distress flag and whistle to attract attention
  • Cellphone adapter
  • Rags or paper towels
  • Tire chains

Again, the safest course is to stay off the roads — particularly if you are not accustomed to driving in hazardous conditions. But if you can’t avoid being out, AAA offers safe winter driving tips, including:

  • To avoid the buildup of dangerous fumes, never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage.
  • Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze-up
  • Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface (wet, ice, sand).
  • Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping, turning – nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly.
  • Know your brakes. Whether you have anti-lock brakes or not, the best way to stop is to use threshold breaking. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal, just to the “threshold” of the brakes locking up.

Meanwhile, if you were planning air travel this week, keep your eye on these weather conditions and flight delays and cancellations, which are likely to snarl major hubs in the East. Look here for pointers on what to do if your flight is canceled.

Are you hunkering down for Winter Storm Jonas? Share your plans in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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  • Jason

    That’s a good list and I have most of those items in my car. I don’t know why one would need cat litter for traction if you also have snow chains. Another item I would add is boots. It is not fun trying to shovel out of push a car in dress shoes.

  • Mackenzie Hayes

    I add tire air checker

  • Michael Smiley Gawthrop

    Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping, turning – nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly.”
    This, especially this… and if you’ve never driven on snow or on icy roads, take how fast you think you should be able to go and cut it in half… first time to snow drivers never seem to properly adjust for how bad the roads really are.

  • whattarush

    I can drive in snow, being from Ohio, but those in coastal North Carolina, where I now make my home, do not. THIS is why I don’t need to be on the road.

  • Georgia Wessling

    I have driven in MO on country roads and highways for 46 years. Never had 9/10 of this stuff. Have driven home – 70 miles – at 30-35 mph and slower. All I’ve ever done is drive for conditions, leave earlier, and have a cell phone and adaptor. I’ve even killed 5 deer with my car and had no major complications, except once when I inadvertently locked my car door while I was checking the front end and it was 34 degrees outside. Was I glad for others on the road that night at about midnight.

  • masiman

    You neglected to mention one of the most important components of safe, effective winter travel in icy and snowy conditions: good tires. For some strange reason a lot of people think if they have a 4WD or AWD vehicle that’s sufficient. It’s not: Proper winter tires make all the difference in the world, particularly for daily use when you don’t want to be driving around with tire chains on your vehicle. “All Season” tires might be fine for some parts of the country, but in places that get a lot of ice and snow, proper winter tires are essential. And, be aware that once they’re down to 1/2 tread depth they’re no longer useful for winter driving no matter what they are!

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