It’s no secret that driving in Minneapolis in the winter can be a real ditch.
If you’re anything like me, you often forget to go out 15 minutes before you have to leave and start defrosting your car. Then, you’re forced to scrape a tiny hole out of the layer of ice above the driver’s side before getting in and rushing, unsafely, to get wherever you’re going. As well, if you’re like me, this usually happens when you have to be somewhere after 5 PM, or when you’ll be driving in the pitch black. This is a really good example of how not to drive in Minneapolis winters. The simplest way to drive safely in Minneapolis winters is to avoid driving at all. However, I recognize that that is a luxury we can’t all afford and it’s crucial we know what to do when we do have to drive during snow emergencies.
Preparing Your Vehicle Before getting behind the wheel at all, you’ll want to make sure your vehicles are properly winterized. Get an oil change and the appropriate parts of your car checked to make sure everything is working properly; you will want to check your “brakes, tires, battery, exhaust and cooling systems, headlights, fluids, and windshield wipers.” Make sure your car is stocked with a full tank of gas and antifreeze as well. Keeping a winter-emergency survival kit in your trunk is another step you can take to prepare for the worst. Your Minneapolis-winter survival kit should include: blankets, warm winter clothing (hats, mittens, boots), first aid kit, lighter or matches, a shovel, jumper cables, tow chain, tool kit, flashlight, garbage bags, some non-perishable snacks, and some cat litter, salt, or sand to use for traction under stuck tires.
Preparing to Drive If you do have to drive in dangerous conditions, make sure to tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to get there; also, keep your cell phone charged so you can contact somebody in the case of an emergency. With your family or friend notified and your cell phone charged, you’re ready to start cleaning off your car. Use an ice scraper, or an old broom if you’re desperate, and brush all the snow off the entire body of your car, lights, and mirrors. Once this is done and you’ve checked the winter storm warnings in your area, you’re ready to plow ahead towards your destination.
Safe Driving Remember it’s better to get somewhere slowly than not at all. Don’t succumb to the pressure of cars passing you by in the fast lane and getting dangerously close to your taillights, drive slow. Avoid using cruise control this Minneapolis-winter, this will make your car accelerate when you don’t want it to. Give yourself more room than you think is necessary when stopping your car and allow more room between you and the other cars on the road. Ice and snow can greatly increase the stopping distance required and no one has the time to deal with being rear-ended. Drive particularly careful on bridges, overpasses, and tunnels, these structures can be even more slippery than the regular road. If you’re driving in the morning, watch out for black ice as it’s more likely to form at that time due to the difference in air and pavement temperatures.
Minneapolis drivers are all too familiar with the heart-sinking feeling of your car sliding through a stop sign or intersection. If you feel your car sliding, fight the instinct to step on the brakes. Using your brakes when your car is sliding, will likely make it worse. Instead, let go of the gas and gently steer your wheel into the slide or the direction you want your car to go. Try to avoid over-correcting, or jerking your wheel in the opposite direction of the slide, because this will make the spin out much worse. If you have anti-lock brakes, apply a steady and firm pressure to the brake pedal to end your slide. If you have regular brakes, slowly apply pressure to the pedal without letting the wheels lock.
Getting Stranded If you find yourself stranded on the side of the road in a blizzard, there are steps to follow to keep yourself safe and warm. First, pull over out of the way of other vehicles and turn on your emergency hazard lights. Avoid the urge to get out and go walk towards help, the safest place for you to be is in your car. From the safety of inside your car, call for help, whether that be a friend or family member, AAA, or 911. Make yourself stand out from the sheets of white snow; to do this, tie a brightly colored cloth to your antenna or out a window, this is so the help you called can easily locate you. Next, run your vehicle for 10 minutes every hour to keep warm and charge your phone if needed. When doing this, make sure to keep your exhaust pipe and radiator clear of snow and crack a window to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Finally, don’t try pushing your car to safety; this is a good way to overexert yourself and jeopardize your health.
With another Minneapolis winter here to stay, remember, it’s better to arrive somewhere slowly than not at all. Get your vehicles winterized, keep a winter-emergency survival kit in your trunk, and know what to do in the chance your vehicle starts sliding down the road. The best winter driving is no driving. Minneapolis winters bring ice skating, bar crawls, light shows, holiday shopping, and plenty of fun to make you forget about the subzero temperatures, don’t let winter driving and dangerous road conditions be the grinch that comes and steals our holiday fun.
Lastly, my number one safety tip for winter-driving is to book a vacation somewhere warm and take some time to defrost, drive safe everyone!