When It Comes To Driving In Winter Weather, Gut Instinct And Common Sense Must Be Friends
As North Dakotans, we’re no stranger to driving in extreme winter weather conditions. Blizzards, life-threatening wind chills and road closures force us to be prepared, use common sense and take mom’s well-meant advice to pack a winter survival kit.
But there’s a difference between common sense and instinct. We may know that slamming the brakes on the Interstate when it’s sleeting and temps are lingering near freezing is not a great idea. We also probably know it’s statistically safer to just hit the skunk in the middle of the road than it is to try to swerve around it.
It’s easy for us to know how we’d react right at this very moment, simply because we aren’t actually in the situation right now.
Unfortunately, in the stress of the moment, our instincts often takes precedence over common sense. Our survival mode kicks in and we make split-second decisions based on our natural reactions to fight or flee during a perceived danger.
Common instincts that could cause trouble on the road
While traveling during winter weather conditions is always rather … adventuresome, it’s important to recognize when using common sense is far safer than relying on gut instinct. Here are a few examples:
- Slamming on the brakes. Even when it’s raining and temperatures are hovering near the freezing point, don’t instinctually slam on the brakes for debris or wandering skunks. The road could actually appear wet, but be icy. This can cause your vehicle to go into a tailspin and possibly land you in the ditch – or worse, into oncoming traffic.
- Leaving the vehicle to find help. While your instinct might tell you that help isn’t far away, it’s easy to become disoriented in a snowstorm with low visibility, especially when temperatures dip below zero. It’s best to stick with your vehicle and rely on the well-planned survival kit you packed before you left the house.
- Layering hands and feet. If you are stranded, you might think piling on layers of socks and gloves will help you stay warm. Well, the opposite is true, especially when you’re already geared up in snow boots or well-insulated shoes and mittens. The more you layer your feet and hands, the more compressed your toes and fingers will become, which inhibits circulation and can cause frostbite.
Of course, these are all easier said than done. The best way to use common sense in situations when instinct can put you more in danger is to follow the three Be’s:
- Be prepared: Danger can come out of nowhere. Being ready just in case will help your brain process split-second decisions.
- Be alert: Do not use your phone while driving. Always be aware of your surroundings, especially other drivers.
- Be cautious: Resist the temptation to pass a slower-moving vehicle if you are unsure if the roads are clear. It’s always better to get there safer than to not get there at all.
So what should be in your car’s winter survival kit?
Before smartphones, there were day-glow orange flags drivers could tie around their antennas so oncoming traffic could see the stranded vehicles. It seems rather archaic to tie a bright rag onto your car if you land in the ditch, but then again, that rag doesn’t need to be charged every three hours.
While phones surely do provide an enormous amount of protection on the road, they aren’t foolproof, especially in the cold when batteries tend to die out more quickly.
In fact, a good, modern-day survival kit probably looks a lot like the one your grandfather had stashed in his trunk decades ago.
Car survival kit must-haves:
- For safety – cell phone, cell phone charger, a highly visible emergency flag, jumper cables, candles, matches, utility knife, rope, Bungee cords, extension cord, first-aid kit, flashlight, batteries, ice scraper, shovel
- For warmth – sleeping bags, blankets, winter hats, gloves, socks, scarves, waterproof poncho
- For hygiene – towel, toothpaste, toothbrushes, razor, hand sanitizer, face cloth, lip balm, tissue and paper towels
- For sustenance – non-perishable food items, candy bars, can opener, energy chews, candies or non-freezable source of hydration
- For sanity – playing cards, word jumble books, crossword puzzles, coloring books, novels, magazines, pens, pencils, markers, crayons
Share your winter survival story
Have you ever found yourself in a winter traveling emergency? How did you react? What did you learn from your experience? We’d love to hear your story. Here’s one from a Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota Communications Audio Video Specialist, Danielle Betteen.
Lonna Whiting is an editor in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.