Preparation key to safe winter car travel, experts say |

Preparation key to safe winter car travel, experts say

Routt County Office of Emergency Management suggests drivers navigating mountain roads in the winter should carry an emergency kit for their vehicles in case they become stranded.

While the National Weather Service and the Colorado Department of Transportation warned residents about hazardous road conditions across much of the state last week, many holiday travelers hit the road regardless.

According to Routt County's Office of Emergency Management, having a well-stocked emergency kit and following some safe driving tips could be the difference between life and death during a snowy, winter road trip.

"As with everything else in life, preparation makes a difference," read a newsletter put out by the office this month.

Safety begins in the garage as motorists start up the car, according to the National Fire Protection Association, which tells drivers who want to warm a vehicle to remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open, and make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow, according to the NFPA.

Once on the road, the Office of Emergency Management reminds drivers to go slow, because “unless you’re a winter Olympics athlete, speed, snow and ice don’t mix.”

The office suggests slowing down and remembering that vehicles, even those with 4-wheel-drive, need extra distance to stop and must go slower around corners.

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When planning to travel through potentially snowy conditions, CDOT recommends checking to make sure vehicles have adequate tire tread, and to carry traction devices.

Other good ideas include checking windshield wipers and fluid, checking the heater and defroster and keeping the gas tank full to avoid ice in the tank or gas line, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Even with careful preparation, unforeseen circumstances can still lead motorists to become temporarily stranded, a time when an emergency kit on board can make all the difference, according to the Office of Emergency Management.

The office recommends preparing a "grab and go" winter driving emergency kit in an old backpack lying around the house.

Basic necessities for a kit include a long-handled snowbrush, a set of jumper cables, a towrope or strap and a first aid kit, which includes any essential medications.

A bag of non-clumping kitty litter to create traction if stuck on ice, a basic tool kit, flares and a can of de-icer can also come in handy.

When stranded in cold weather, motorists will also be thankful to have a survival blanket or sleeping bag, chemical hand warmers and a supply of non-perishable food and water, according to a joint news release this fall from the American Red Cross, American Automobile Association, Colorado Department of Transportation and Colorado State Patrol.

If a vehicle does break down or become stranded, the organizations suggest moving the vehicle as far off the roadway as possible, and exiting using the side the farthest from traffic if necessary. Stay with the vehicle at all times, cycle your engine and heater to conserve fuel and if possible call 911 or a roadside assistance provider for help.

The Office of Emergency Preparedness said in its newsletter that the idea of an emergency kit is to be prepared, even if it's never used.

"Hopefully you will never need it, but if you do this slight extra effort and expenditure will be more than appreciate," the office wrote. "It could save your life."

CDOT expects car travel to pick up most significantly this week, particularly on I-70, as Coloradoans head to and from the mountains for ski trips.

For more tips on winter driving, visit or or . or

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistowTo reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow

Winter driving safety essentials

Flare/reflectors to signal for help, warn motorists

Sturdy ice scraper, snow brush or show shovel to clear snow

First aid kit with a supply of essential medications

Gallon of water and nonperishable foods

Survival blanket or sleeping bag

Chemical hand warmers

Battery or crank powered radio

Flashlight with extra batters or crank-powered flashlight

Non-clumping kitty litter or sand for traction

Extra clothing, including coat, hat, mittens, boots

Jumper cables, tire chains, tow strap

Source: AAA, ARC, CDOT, CSP, Routt County Office of Emergency Management