With Christmas just around the corner, many Canadians are planning road trips to see friends and family.
Some of that planning should include making sure you get there and home safely.
With that in mind, here’s a Top 10 list of winter-holiday tips.
10. Pack a winter safety kit
This isn’t a small endeavour: you should include blankets and sleeping bags, insulated pants and extra jackets, snow shovel, space blankets, candles and matches, a metal camping cup to melt snow for water, non-perishable food that won’t be affected by freezing, flares and a “HELP! Call police” sign to alert passersby.
Your kit will stay in the trunk, so stuff that will freeze and not be usable is out. You can carry water if you take it in at night: it will take too long to thaw a frozen bottle of water, but only a short time to melt snow, hence the candles. Take a moment to locate your car’s exhaust pipe and remember its location.
9. Plan your trip to include fuelling stops
The best precaution against frozen fuel lines is a tank of fuel that doesn’t go below half-full. Same for a diesel, but if you have a diesel, carry antigel with you too, to be safe.
8. Check your battery and antifreeze
Batteries adhere to Murphy’s Law better than most components of your car: if it can go wrong, it will go wrong at the worst possible time. For batteries, that is when they are freezing cold. For you, that is also when it’s freezing cold. Your trusted mechanic can tell you about your battery, and if you know enough to test it yourself, you probably haven’t ready this far. Antifreeze needs to be at the right strength, not too much water, not too much antifreeze, to do its job.
7. Fight crime along the way
Crooks know Christmas is when cars are full of presents, particularly cars bearing out-of-province plates or the sticker of a distant car dealer at malls or hotel parking lots. But they’re also opportunistic, particularly in daytime when a lengthy forage might be too obvious. So don’t make it easy: hide your presents. Even if your car still looks full, a thief is unlikely to risk breaking in only to find nothing but low-value, hard-to-fence items under that blanket. For overnight stops, consider taking your stuff in to the room. Nighttime offers crooks more privacy and more time for fishing expeditions. This is when they might be more likely to break in not knowing what they might get.
6. Park, the herald, angels sing …
Glory be to those travellers who park their cars in the middle of an open space. Not only does it help protect you from the criminals mentioned above (it’s bleedingly obvious someone is trying to break in), it will also help keep your car free from door dings.
5. Don’t drink and drive
Should go without saying, but police forces are on heightened alert at Christmas, and while the increased chance of getting caught is a pitiful reason for doing the right thing, it’s also an incentive. Also, since the police do have the right to do roadside checks, there’s no guarantee the only thing they’ll notice are drinking drivers.
So, it’s a good excuse to make sure your car is in working order, with no failed lights, broken lenses or other obvious traffic-code violations for which you could get a ticket.
Again, all this is something you should be doing regardless of enforcement, but it’s a good incentive to make sure.
4. White knuckles, dark times
If the weather turns nasty during your drive, your stress levels will rise along with the risk of a mishap. If you’re having trouble managing it, find a place to exit the roadway, park and let the weather pass.
Or find a room for the night.
Stress increases the odds you’ll make a bad decision, plus it’s just not fun. Don’t pull over on the highway: if you can’t see, chances are greater people behind you won’t see you, and if you can’t see where the roadway ends and the shoulder begins, it’s a good bet they can’t, either.
3. Keep your distance, but do keep up
Staying too close to the cars ahead increases the road spray on your windshield and reduces your chances of stopping in time should something occur. Yet, when visibility is bad, it’s never more important to maintain uniform traffic speeds: if the car ahead of you is pulling away quickly, there’s a good chance a car behind will be coming upon you quickly, too. That doesn’t mean you should try to keep up with a maniac doing 100 km/h when he can’t even see where his headlights hit the road. But a rule of thumb for establishing speed limits says 80 per cent of drivers will settle into a speed suitable for the conditions. If even that is too much, then follow Tip 4.
2. Don’t forget, it’s winter
Take your sunglasses, since snow on the ground greatly increases the light entering your eyes. Take along some snow toys for the kids: even roll-up slider mats are good. It should be easy to find a hill somewhere for a stop. Let the kids work off their energy outside getting fresh air instead of finding out who can kick the seatbacks the hardest! Dress in layers. You might want to peel off some outerwear as the car warms up, but you might also find at one point, you want to cool the car down to help stay alert, so easily being able to layer up again might be helpful.
1. Enjoy the trip!
You wouldn’t do this if the goal wasn’t to relax and enjoy yourself, so plan for events you will enjoy, too. Don’t go crazy on coffee, since caffeine can increase anxiety levels (not to mention how many times you’ll have to stop to shake the hand of the mayor). Stay hydrated and have some healthy snacks to nosh on the way. Remember, too that winter driving can increase the stress of driving, so if it makes sense to break the trip up, plan to stop at more than a mere roadside motel and give the kids (including you) a chance to unwind with a pool, hot tub or waterslide.