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Wisconsin Parent

Winter Driving Safety

Nov 24, 2014 08:15AM ● By Julie Henning
Whether you're driving over the river or through the woods, many of us are headed on a road trip to Grandmother's house next week. With winter weather already rearing its ugly head in many parts of the country, it's time to make sure you have everything you need to get to the Thanksgiving table with lots to be thankful for.

To begin, take the Frisbee and soccer balls out of the trunk and get your ice scrapers and jumper cables back in place. We have a plastic tub full of emergency supplies and staples (see the above photo), but about this time last year I learned the hard way you need to inspect the contents each year.

And while this article is a fabulous resource for preparing your vehicle for winter driving, remembering how to drive in winter conditions, gathering emergency and survival supplies, and knowing what to do if you are stranded, I'd like to add a  few pieces of advice gleaned from countless road trips of varying destination and duration.

Bring a flashlight and make sure the batteries are fresh. Days are short and nights are long in the winter. Make sure your flashlight works at the beginning of the season and check it periodically (especially if the temperatures are extreme and you often park outside).

Make sure you have enough emergency blankets and extra layers to go around. Especially if you're traveling with a carload full of kids, you don't want to be in the position of "taking turns." I keep packets of instant hand warmers in the glove box. In a pinch, socks can double as mittens.

Know where your car battery is and identify an appropriate engine block. Every car is different and I can't be the only person who is confused by the ambiguous term "engine block" when it comes to giving or receiving a jump start. I once drove a vehicle where the battery was located under the spare tire in the trunk. Don't feel silly finding your battery ahead of time (the same goes for wiper fluid and antifreeze ports).

Invest in a phone charger that won't drain your car battery. If you are truly stranded and/or the electrical system in your vehicle has failed, you won't have a resource for charging your phone. I always travel with an external juice pack for my smart phone and make sure it is fully charged the night before our trip.

Know whom to contact. There's nothing more disconcerting than trying to look up phone numbers when you need to access them in a hurry. I have numbers for my insurance agent, emergency roadside assistance, and state highway patrol programmed into my phone and hand written on a sheet of paper stored in the glove box.

Bring something to entertain the kids. Nowadays kids watch DVDs and play on their tablets during a road trip, but when the power dies they may grow bored and impatient. We keep a small container full of cards, games with minimal pieces, and old school pads of paper and crayons to hold them over.

Avoid sitting directly on the ground. I keep an old beach towel and a plastic garbage bag in our emergency tub just in case one of us has to lie or kneel on the ground. This protects your clothing and keeps a layer between you and the elements. Floor mats also work.

Make sure you always have water or a way to melt snow. Hunger is one thing, but dehydration can have dire consequences. If you are truly traveling to the middle of nowhere, it might we worth your time to invest in a portable camp stove that can be used to melt snow into water. We travel with reusable water bottles and I keep an old cup in our emergency tub (this can also double as a funnel if you need one for engine trouble). On that note, you will also need a way to start a fire. I have a combination of reusable matches, lighters, and old school wax candles.

Other winter weather "must haves" are extra wiper fluid, toilet paper, cat litter (for traction under a spinning wheel), a collapsible shovel, and an emergency whistle.

This video also offers more advice and ideas on what to pack:

And last, but certainly not least, if you have new drivers or haven't driven on icy roads in some time, it might not hurt to practice a few "situations" in an empty parking lot.

Worth discussing is how anti-lock brakes work, how to downshift a manual transmission, black ice, why bridges can be slipperier than roads, and how to steer in a skid.

Happy trails and safe driving from our family to yours.

This story was sponsored by State Farm Insurance Company. All of the content and opinions are my own.