NHTSA Bids You Safe Travels With Winter Driving Tips

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While the trip in the song took them “over the river and through the wood” by sleigh, the majority of holiday travelers head to Grandmother’s house — or wherever else they go to celebrate — by automobile. Nearly 39 million motorists were estimated to have traveled more than 50 miles from home by car during this past Thanksgiving holiday, with millions more set to hit the road for Christmas, according to AAA.

For those planning to head out on a car trip this Christmas, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reminds motorists to buckle their seat belts, put young children in child-safety seats and anyone younger than 13 in the backseat, avoid drinking alcohol or distractions when driving, and stay out of the “No Zone,” the area around large trucks and buses where crashes are most likely to occur.

NHTSA also reminds travelers that weather-related crashes account for a significant percentage of fatalities during winter holiday travel, totaling 4 percent for Thanksgiving 2012. “Preparedness” is the name of the game when it comes to guarding against both weather-related accidents and roadside emergencies.

NHTSA has provided the following checklist for safe winter driving:

Plan Your Travel

  • Check weather, road and traffic conditions.
  • Allow ample time to reach your destination safely.
  • Familiarize yourself with directions and maps before you go, and let others know your anticipated arrival time.

Know Your Car

  • Every car handles differently, particularly on wet, icy or snowy roads. Practice driving your car in adverse weather conditions in an empty parking lot in full daylight.
  • Before moving your car, clean snow, ice or dirt from windows, forward sensors, headlights, taillights and the backup camera.
  • When renting a car, familiarize yourself with the vehicle before driving it of the lot.
  • Drive slowly and increase following distance so you have plenty of time to stop.
  • When braking, apply firm, continuous pressure with antilock brakes; for non-antilock brakes, pump the pedal gently.
  • In a skid, ease your foot off the gas and carefully steer in the direction you want the front of your vehicle to go; stay off the gas and brakes until you regain control.

Get Your Car a Checkup

  • Visit a mechanic for routine maintenance before your trip.
  • Have your vehicle checked thoroughly for leaks, worn hoses and other items that may need repair.
  • Have your battery checked for sufficient voltage, amperage and reserve capacity; have the charging system and belts inspected; keep fresh gasoline in a hybrid-electric vehicle to support the gas engine.
  • Make sure you have enough coolant in your vehicle as prescribed by the owner’s manual and check for coolant leaks.
  • Fill your windshield washer fluid reservoir completely using high-quality winter fluid with deicer and buy extra to keep in your vehicle.
  • Make sure your windshield wipers work and replace worn blades, and check your window defrosters to ensure they’re working.
  • Check tire pressure and make sure each tire is filled to the manufacturer’s recommended inflation, which is found on a placard on the driver’s-side door frame and in the owner’s manual.

In Case of Emergency

  • Bring a snow shovel, broom and ice scraper; abrasive material such as sand or kitty litter in case you get stuck; jumper cables, a flashlight and warning devices like flares and emergency markers; blankets; a cell phone with charger; water; food; and any necessary medicines.
  • Stay with your stopped or stalled car and don’t overexert yourself.
  • Keep the car’s interior dome light on.
  • To avoid asphyxiation from carbon monoxide, don’t run your car for long periods of time with the window up or in an enclosed space; keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow and run the engine only long enough to stay warm.

Click here for NHTSA’s interactive winter driving graphic.

AAA: Make Holiday Travel Safety List, Check It Twice
Travel Safely This Thanksgiving
More Safety News on Cars.com

Photo of Matt Schmitz
Former Assistant Managing Editor-News Matt Schmitz is a veteran Chicago journalist indulging his curiosity for all things auto while helping to inform car shoppers. Email Matt Schmitz

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