Tips for safe winter traveling

ALBANY, N.Y. — As a major storm bears down on the Capital Region, the American Red Cross is reminding drivers to take precautions while traveling in severe weather.

“The best thing to do is to avoid travel, if at all possible, during the storm,” said American Red Cross Northeastern NY Region spokesperson Caroline Boardman. “Stay safe, stay home and give road crews the opportunity to do their job.” If you must travel, Boardman said, there are important tips to keep in mind.

The National Weather Service reports that many people die each year when they attempt to leave their vehicle during a storm to walk to safety. Stranded drivers should stay with their car, tie a bright piece of cloth to the car's antenna or door handle and try to contact emergency personnel by mobile phone.

While stranded, drivers should start and run their car for 10 minutes every hour, using the heater. Be sure that your exhaust pipe and radiator are clear of packed snow before running your engine. While the engine is running, partially open a down-wind window to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning and to get fresh air into the vehicle. Keep the vehicle's interior lights on while the engine is running. Avoid hypothermia by constantly moving your arms and leg; clapping hands will help keep you warm as well. Warning signs of hypothermia are memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, exhaustion and uncontrollable shivering.

Boardman reminds people to carry essential supplies. “You should have some basics on hand – such as a flashlight, extra batteries and bottled water – in case you do get stuck somewhere. Also, be sure to carry a cell phone and car charger.”

A winter travel kit may include:

  • Snow brush
  • Battery-powered radio and extra batteries
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Blankets or sleeping bags
  • Booster cables
  • Fire extinguisher (5 lb., A-B-C type)
  • First aid kit and manual
  • Bottled water and non-perishable high-energy foods, such as nutrition bars, raisins and peanut butter
  • Compass and road maps
  • Shovel
  • Flares
  • Extra clothing to keep dry
  • Sack of sand or cat litter (to use for tire traction)

Other travel tips:

  • Keep tuned to the radio for the latest road conditions
  • Drive with your headlights on
  • Keep all your windows and all lights clear of snow for visibility
  • Clear all surfaces of the car. Snow and ice blowing off the hood of your car can blind you or damage your windshield. Snow and ice blowing off your roof or trunk can blind drivers behind you or damage their vehicle.
  • Slow down when visibility is reduced; don't drive faster than your ability to see ahead on the road
  • Leave extra space between your automobile and others on the road. All-wheel drive vehicles do not stop any better or more quickly than conventional vehicles.
  • Remember bridges and overpasses usually freeze before other roads. Use caution.
  • Never follow a snowplow too closely or attempt to pass one. Remember that the highway ahead of the plow is usually snow-covered
  • Assume that bridge surfaces are slippery, as they freeze more quickly than road surfaces;
  • Inform a responsible person of your destination, intended route, and estimated time of arrival

Travelers are also encouraged to check conditions before venturing out by accessing NYSDOT's free 511NY traffic and travel information system, which provides real-time travel information, by calling 511 or visiting

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