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Winter Driving Tips

Ice and Snow...Take It Slow...

Winter driving can be a beautiful experience such as after a snow storm when the landscape is covered with fresh snow, the sky is bright blue, and the road is clear and dry. On the other hand, a trip during a winter storm can be a nightmare, with poor visibility caused by blowing snow, roads nearly blocked with drifting snow or freezing rain turning the road into a skating rink.
 Making Your Vehicle Winter Ready

 Pretrip Planning

 Vehicle Operation


 Back Home


Making Your Vehicle Winter Ready

During the winter your vehicle should be in top condition because if it stalls when you are on the road, you could become involved in a life threatening situation. To minimize the possibility of a break down, winterize your vehicle following the suggested maintenance schedule included in the owners manual or have your vehicle serviced by a reputable dealer, garage or mechanic.

Because winter is so rough on equipment, you should regularly check the wipers, tires, lights, and fluid levels (radiator, windshield washer, power steering, oil and brakes). Make sure the brakes and transmission are working properly. If you suspect trouble, check it out. It is better to be safe than sorry!

 Survival Kit

Your vehicle should be equipped with a winter emergency survival kit. The following items are recommended:

  • Ice scraper, snow brush, rags and paper towels.
  • Jumper cables, basic tool kit, antifreeze, no-freeze windshield washer fluid and extra drive belt(s).
  • Shovel, traction mats or old rugs, tire chains, salt, cat box litter or sand.
  • Blankets and extra clothing including hats, socks, waterproof boots, coats andgloves.
  • Non-perishable, high-calorie food.
  • Candles, waterproof matches and a metal container (coffee can) in which to melt snow into water.
  • Flashlight with extra batteries, flares or roadway reflectors.
  • A basic first aid kit and a fire extinguisher.
  • A cellular telephone with a backup power source might be the single most important safety item available. A citizen’s band radio is a good alternative.
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    Pretrip Planning

    During a winter storm the very first question you must ask yourself should be: “Is this trip really necessary?”

    If you decide the trip cannot be delayed, check on weather conditions along your travel route. This will give you an idea of what to expect and you will be able to prepare accordingly. Listen to weather forecasts on TV, local radio stations, or NOAA Weather Radio.

    Current road condition reports are available for Illinois’ interstate and freeway systems by calling 1-800-452-IDOT. Information is updated every two hours during a storm. You can also get this information on our home page at and at computer monitors located at Interstate rest areas.

    Tell someone at home, a friend or a co-worker that you are taking a trip, where you are going and when you expect to get there. When you reach your destination make a phone call to report that you have arrived.

    If your trip will be in unfamiliar area, plan to travel during daylight hours and carry up-to-date maps of the areas where you’ll be traveling. Consider alternate routes. Make sure you have proper personal identification, registration and insurance information for your vehicle.

    Before you leave town, fill your gas tank. While you are traveling, frequently re-fill the gas tank. The stops will relieve tense muscles. When you stop, don’t flaunt large amounts of cash. Keep valuable items out of sight. Avoid talking with strangers. Stop at well lighted, well traveled facilities.

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    Vehicle Operation

    Winter driving is often the most difficult due to blowing snow, icy slick spots and fewer daylight hours. When you are on the road:

  • Buckle those seat belts! (It’s the law)
  • Be prepared to turn back or seek refuge if conditions become threatening.
  • In RAIN, drive with your headlights on dim.
  • In FOG, drive with your headlights on dim, or use foglights.
  • If the fog is too dense, pull off the roadway and stop. Do not drive at less than 10 miles per hour.
  • In RAIN, FOG, SNOW or SLEET, do not overdrive your headlights.
  • Stay within the limits of your vision.
  • Keep your windows clear of snow and ice. Do not start until your windshield is defrosted.
  • Drive slower and increase your following distance. Your speed should be adjusted for the conditions and match the flow of traffic.
  • Roadway conditions may vary depending on the sun, shade or roadway surface. Watch for slick spots especially under bridges, on overpasses and in shaded spots. Be prepared to react physically and mentally.
  • If the pavement is snow or ice covered, start slowly and brake gently. Beginbraking early when you come to an intersection.
  • If you start to slide, ease off the gas pedal or brakes. Steer into the direction of the skid until you feel you have regained traction then straighten your vehicle.
  • When you approach a snow plow from behind, pass with care and only when you can see the road ahead of the plow. You should not try to pass in blowing snow. There may be a vehicle in that cloud of snow! Allow more distance between you and the plow, they may be spreading salt.
  • Be alert when you approach a cloud of snow which covers the road, especially on passing lanes of interstates or freeways. Slow down and approach with caution. A snow plow may be at work clearing the lane or preparing to turn around.
  • Be careful after a minor rear end accident. If you are bumped from behind and you do not feel comfortable exiting your vehicle, motion the other driver and drive to the nearest police station, 24-hour store, service station, hospital or fire station.
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    If your vehicle breaks down, pull as far off the road as possible. Your greatest personal danger at this point is that of being hit by passing vehicles. Don’t panic. Common sense could be critical to survival. Do not over exert yourself, especially when shoveling snow or pushing a stalled vehicle. This physical activity may be more strenuous than your body can tolerate.

    You’ll have to use your best judgment to determine whether or not you should leave your vehicle and walk for help or wait to be rescued. Stand outside for a few moments to consider how cold it really is before you start to walk for help. When the temperature is 20 degrees F and the wind is blowing 30 miles per hour the wind chill “feels like” temperature is -18 degrees F, that's 18 degrees BELOW zero. You could suffer severe complications from exposure after walking a short distance for help. Stay in your vehicle if you are not dressed for extremely cold weather.

    If you are stranded in a sparsely populated area, it may be a while before help arrives. Stay in your vehicle, when you feel cold, move around in the vehicle as much as possible, clap your hands, shake your legs, and stomp your feet. Exercise will help maintain body heat and will relieve tense muscles. Sit close together and cover up with blankets or extra clothing to conserve body heat. Do not permit all occupants of the vehicle to sleep at once.

    Melt snow for drinking water. If you eat snow your body will be even colder.

    If the engine will start, run it and the heater only for short time periods. Partially open a downwind window to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Make sure the exhaust pipe is free of obstructions and the windows are not sealed by snow or ice.

    If you are stranded on a well traveled road, wait for assistance from police or other emergency service providers. Resist the temptation to accept assistance from a stranger. Raise the hood, turn on the dome light and flashers to make your vehicle more noticeable and attach a cloth to the antenna or window indicating you need help.

    Car telephone owners who see stranded motorists can do them a favor by calling and reporting the exact location and description of the vehicle. Mobile amateur radio operators and CBers can help by relaying messages to base stations who in turn will call the police.

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    Back Home

    When you return home from a long trip, wash your vehicle to remove dirt and road salt. A coat of wax could help protect the finish from the effects of salt. Lubricate door and trunk locks with lock lubricant to prevent them from freezing.

    We hope these tips will help make your trip safe and enjoyable.

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