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Preparation key to safe winter car travel, experts say

Routt County Office of Emergency Management suggests drivers navigating mountain roads in the winter should carry an emergency kit for their vehicles in case they become stranded.
John F. Russell

Winter driving safety essentials

Flare/reflectors to signal for help, warn motorists

Sturdy ice scraper, snow brush or show shovel to clear snow

First aid kit with a supply of essential medications

Gallon of water and nonperishable foods

Survival blanket or sleeping bag

Chemical hand warmers

Battery or crank-powered radio

Flashlight with extra batteries or crank-powered flashlight

Non-clumping kitty litter or sand for traction

Extra clothing, including coat, hat, mittens, boots

Jumper cables, tire chains, tow strap

Source: AAA, ARC, CDOT, CSP, Routt County Office of Emergency Management

— As the National Weather Service and the Colorado Department of Transportation warned residents about hazardous road conditions across much of the state last week, many holiday travelers hit the roads, regardless.

According to Routt County’s Office of Emergency Management, having a well-stocked emergency kit and following some safe driving tips could mean the difference between life and death during a snowy, winter road trip.

“As with everything else in life, preparation makes a difference,” according to a newsletter released by the office this month.



Safety begins in the garage as motorists start their cars, according to the National Fire Protection Association, which cautions drivers who want to warm a vehicle to remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open, and make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow, the NFPA advised.

Once on the road, the Office of Emergency Management reminds drivers to proceed slowly, because “unless you’re a winter Olympics athlete, speed, snow and ice don’t mix.”



The office suggests slowing down and remembering that vehicles, even those with four-wheel-drive, need extra distance to stop and must travel more slowly around corners.

When planning travel through potentially snowy conditions, CDOT recommends checking to ensure vehicles have adequate tire tread and carrying traction devices.

Other good ideas include checking windshield wipers and fluid, checking the heater and defroster and keeping the gas tank full to avoid ice in the tank or gas line, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Even with careful preparation, unforeseen circumstances can still lead motorists to become temporarily stranded, and in such cases, an emergency kit on board can make all the difference, according to the Office of Emergency Management.

The office recommends preparing a “grab and go” winter driving emergency kit.

Basic necessities for a kit include a long-handled snowbrush, a set of jumper cables, a towrope or strap and a first aid kit which includes any essential medications.

A bag of non-clumping kitty litter to create traction on icy roads, a basic tool kit, flares and a can of de-icer can also come in handy.

When stranded in cold weather, motorists will also be thankful to have a survival blanket or sleeping bag, chemical hand warmers and a supply of non-perishable food and water, according to a joint news release this fall from the American Red Cross, American Automobile Association, Colorado Department of Transportation and Colorado State Patrol.

If a vehicle does break down or become stranded, the organizations suggest moving the vehicle as far off the roadway as possible and exiting using the side the farthest from traffic. Stay with the vehicle at all times, cycle your engine and heater to conserve fuel and, if possible, call 911 or a roadside assistance provider for help.

The Office of Emergency Preparedness said in its newsletter that the idea of an emergency kit is to be prepared, even if it’s never used.

“Hopefully you will never need it, but if you do, this slight extra effort and expenditure will be more than appreciated,” the office wrote. “It could save your life.”

CDOT expects car travel to pick up most significantly this week, particularly on I-70, as Coloradoans head to and from the mountains for ski trips.

For more tips on winter driving, visit cdot.gov/travel/winterdriving or emergency.cdc.gov/disasters.winter.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow


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