With a winter storm possible over the Inland Northwest this week, it’s smart for holiday travelers – and all drivers – to get ready for winter.
That means stocking emergency items, making sure your vehicle is ready for harsh conditions and adjusting your driving habits to match slippery roads.
Trooper Jeff Sevigney of the Washington State Patrol said one of the biggest mistakes in winter driving is not slowing down. Even the brawniest four-wheel-drive rig can’t stop quickly on snow and ice, he said.
“Speed limits are set for ideal conditions,” he said.
The Washington state Department of Transportation gives this advice: “Four-wheel and all-wheel vehicles do not stop or steer better on ice.”
Anticipating stops, ramps and turns by slowing down well in advance will keep drivers out of trouble. Watch the road some distance in front of you in case there’s an accident or traffic is stopped, Sevigney said.
The DOT also recommends increasing following distances and not passing snow plows.
All of this means allowing extra time to reach your destination, the experts said.
But winter driving should start with preparation well before you get behind the wheel.
Sevigney and other automobile experts recommend assembling a winter emergency kit that should include:
- A first aid kit
- Food such as granola bars and water
- Flashlight, ice scraper, snow brush, extra batteries, flares or emergency reflectors, shovel
- Extra clothes, an emergency blanket, extra stocking hats, boots, gloves
- Tire chains, fire extinguisher, toilet paper and an empty container
“These are kind of the basics,” Sevigney said. He recommended putting those items in a gear bag and leaving them inside the vehicle during winter months.
Sevigney recalled one driver whose car caught fire from a malfunctioning seat heater. A fire extinguisher would have prevented what became extensive damage.
When traveling in winter, drivers and passengers need to take items that would help them remain comfortable and safe if their vehicle engine and its heater were disabled in a wreck or breakdown.
Emergency supplies are most important when traveling through rural areas. In the metropolitan area drivers have easy access to stores, repair shops and emergency services.
“You don’t have to go far to be by yourself,” he said of traveling outside the region’s cities.
In addition to basic emergency supplies, Sevigney also carries an electric inverter that provides power for charging electronic devices.
He also has an emergency battery jump kit. DOT recommends carrying battery jumper cables.
“Power is important, as demonstrated in the last few days,” he said, referring to Tuesday’s windstorm.
Before heading to grandma’s for Thanksgiving, it’s also wise to make sure the engine is tuned up, the antifreeze is adequate, the wipers are working, and the tires are in good shape and properly inflated.
“Take care of your tires,” he said.
Have the belts, hoses, brakes and lights in proper working condition.
Sevigney recommends carrying tire chains in case of heavy snow and ice. He also said drivers should practice putting them on before leaving home.
In Spokane, conditions can go from wet to icy in a few miles, such as at the top of Sunset Hill or south of Hatch Road on U.S. Highway 195.
Drivers need to watch for sudden changes in conditions as they drive, he said. Bridges and shady areas along hillsides are often icier than other spots. Thawing during the day can leave black ice on the highway at night, especially where water drains onto the road.
Keep your fuel tank topped off to provide a safety margin.
Carrying extra windshield washer fluid that does not freeze in bitter cold is important. Keeping the washer fluid level full is also a good idea. The windshield washer is critical to be able to see on a slushy or wet highway, especially if de-icer or sand has been applied.
And finally, drivers on longer trips should plan ahead by checking the weather forecast and highway conditions.
There are numerous ways to do that online or through the telephone 511 service.
The Spokane Regional Transportation Management Center has numerous traffic camera images.
AAA is forecasting that 46.6 million Americans will travel 50 or more miles from home for Thanksgiving. That is an increase of 0.6 percent from 2014.
Of those traveling, 42 million will be hitting the road in their vehicles. That segment of holiday travel will be up 0.7 percent, AAA said.
Lower gasoline prices are contributing to the increase in travel, but higher costs for lodging, airline tickets and rental cars is a bit of a damper on demand for travel, the auto club said.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.