How to Stay Safe if You're Stuck in Your Car in Winter

Winter storms can come out of nowhere, causing accidents that can leave you stranded for hours or even days. As an example, in January 2022, I-95 in Washington, D.C., was completely shut down, stranding drivers on the highway overnight.

It is always a good idea to have the supplies you need in your vehicle in case this situation arises. Make sure you know what to do to keep yourself safe in a winter emergency.

What Should I Do if I'm Stuck in a Storm?

There are a few things you should keep in mind that will keep you safe if you get stranded during a winter storm. Even if you follow winter driving practices, sometimes the snow can just be too intense. Follow these tips to keep yourself safe this winter.

Prepare Your Car

You should always have your car prepared with emergency items, but during the winter, it can't hurt to have extra supplies. Here are some ideas:

  • Have a kit on hand with some non-perishable snacks like energy bars and some bottles of water in case you get stuck for more than a day. 

  • Keep a warm blanket or at least an emergency space blanket for extra warmth. 

  • Make sure you have a cell phone charger or battery pack to keep your phone charged to stay in touch with your family. 

  • Don't forget to pack extra gloves, hats, and socks as well.

Contact the Authorities

Unless you are stuck in a major accident on the highway, the first thing you should do is call the authorities. Let them know where you are, how many people are with you, and if you have any emergency supplies.

Make Yourself Visible

If you get stranded on a back road, you want to make yourself visible to any emergency services or passersby that can help you. You can try the following methods:

  • Put your hazard lights on when the engine is running.

  • Leave your interior lights on overnight when you have the engine running.

  • Tie a bright piece of material to your antenna.

  • Put up your hood to show you need help.

Stay in Your Vehicle

Your vehicle will protect you from the elements in the winter. Keep the doors closed and the windows up to keep any heat you have built up from escaping. You shouldn't abandon your car unless you know for sure there is a safe destination within walking distance. 

Conserve Your Gas

The amount of gas you have will determine how long you can keep the car running in an emergency situation. This is why it is important to keep it as full as possible during the winter. If you feel that you are going to be stuck for more than a few hours, try to run the car sparingly. Take advantage of the warmer temperatures during the day and keep the car off until the overnight hours. 

Check Your Exhaust Pipe

If you are stuck in a snowdrift or in a blizzard, it is important that your exhaust pipe remains clear. If you run your car with a blocked exhaust pipe, the poisonous carbon monoxide can flow back into the vehicle. Unfortunately, if you let this happen, you could get carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Don't Eat the Snow

If you run out of water and need hydration, avoid eating the snow. The best thing you can do is to put the snow in a container and melt it first. If you eat it without melting it first, it will drop your core body temperature. Your body will then have to waste precious energy to try to warm back up.

Stay Safe if You're Stranded in a Storm

If you get stranded in the winter, it is important that you stay warm, have emergency rations, and make yourself known to emergency authorities. One way you can prepare yourself for winter driving is to take an defensive driving course. The course can teach you methods to stay safe while driving this winter.

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