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Safely shifting into the winter driving season

SIMCOE, DECEMBER 16, 2010 – The first two weeks of December greeted southern Ontario with a blast of cold weather, snow and hazardous road conditions. The nightly news reports of poor visibility, slick roads and multi-car collisions should remind us that we need to change our driving habits to keep ourselves, and other drivers around us, safe as we combat winter weather.

“While your best option is to stay off the roads when they are treacherous, that’s not always an option,” said Joanne Alessi, Injury Prevention Co-ordinator with the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit. “If you do have to venture out in poor weather, a few simple steps can help prevent damage to your car and, more importantly, injuries to you or other motorists.”


Installing four proper winter tires on your vehicle remains the number one recommended safety precaution for winter driving. Winter tires provide better traction, braking and handling in snow, slush or icy conditions. Tire pressure also needs to be checked frequently, as it decreases in cold weather.

The Canada Safety Council (CSC) recommends that people should travel with a full tank of fuel in the winter, keep lights and windshields free of snow, and avoid passing other vehicles, especially snowplows. Scheduling a winter maintenance check-up for your car, including having your battery, belts, hoses, radiator, oil, lights, brakes, exhaust, heater, and wipers checked, is another important habit to get into.

“Driving at a slower speed, doubling the distance between yourself and the car in front, and keeping to main roads are also important safety precautions,” noted Alessi. “Also, tune in to local traffic reports so you can avoid trouble spots.”

The hundreds of motorists recently stranded on the highways near Sarnia due to extreme winter weather would undoubtedly serve as enthusiastic spokespeople for another easy and inexpensive addition to your car before the winter months hit – emergency kits. One kit is needed to help you survive if you become stranded and one kit is needed to get your car back on the road.

In order to survive being stranded in your vehicle, the CSC recommends that you store the following items in your trunk:

· a HELP sign for the window and a red scarf to tie to the antenna
· warm blankets and extra clothing (hats mitts and socks)
· a working flashlight with extra batteries
· a tin can filled with candles and matches (to warm hands and have light)
· fresh water bottles
· emergency high energy foods such as granola bars, dried fruits and nuts
· a first aid kit
· a roll of toilet paper
· a tin cup to melt snow to drink, if necessary

“If you get stranded on a roadway, do not leave your car unless you can visibly see help nearby,” mentioned Constable Mark Foster of the Ontario Provincial Police. “Walking in winter storms can leave you completely disoriented, and you can end up in a lot more trouble outside the vehicle than if you stay inside.”

Most highways are not desolate and help will eventually reach you if you do become stranded. However, help may take some time due to the difficult weather and increased demand for emergency services. To avoid frostbite, run the car engine for about ten minutes every hour to keep warm. Make sure that your exhaust tailpipe is clear of snow in order to prevent a dangerous build-up of carbon monoxide. If you are running out of fuel use the candle, but keep the window open a crack to get proper ventilation. Also, remember to move your hands and feet regularly to improve circulation, and huddle together to conserve body heat.

In order to get out of a snow bank, the CSC recommends you keep the following items in your trunk:

· a shovel
· some gritty substance such as kitty litter or sand to provide traction under tires
· a tow chain (in case someone stops to help pull you out)
· some road flares or reflective triangles

Other helpful items:
· extra windshield washer fluid and fuel line antifreeze
· ice scraper and brush
· booster cables (read owner’s manual first)
· a whistle to alert rescue workers
· a fully charged cell phone with GPS capability

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Media contact:
Joanne Alessi, RN
Injury Prevention Co-ordinator
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
905-318-5367 Ext. 322
[email protected]