At SEARHC, we know driving in Southeast Alaska during the winter can be stressful, especially with poor road conditions and temperatures that can drop to well below freezing. Winter driving can mean facing poor visibility, drifting and blowing snow, freezing rain, fog, icy patches and black ice. But with some preparation, cold weather driving can be a safe, enjoyable journey for both residents and visitors to the Southeast. Below are some recommended safety tips you can follow to make sure you and your vehicle are ready for the winter roads ahead.
Pack an emergency bag
The most dangerous aspect of winter driving is being stranded in the cold during a mechanical breakdown. Be sure to pack an emergency bag filled with extra provisions and on-road emergency gear. Your bag should include extra blankets, nonperishable food, clean water, lots of warm clothing, candles, flares, an extra-long set of booster cables, tow rope and a snow shovel. Depending on where the breakdown occurs, help might not come for hours. Having an emergency bag ready will help make sure the delay is just an inconvenience and not a disaster.
Make your vehicle winter-ready
Keeping your vehicle in top shape is vital to safe travel in difficult, winter-driving conditions. Read your owner’s manual and make sure the following components are in good working order: tire pressure, defroster, heater, battery, lights, motor oil, antifreeze, belts, hoses, filters, brakes, brake fluid, wiper blades and windshield washer fluid. We also recommend installing a block heater in your vehicle to protect yourself from overnight engine freeze. You can also plug in the heater in the morning to help with cold weather starts. Also, good winter tires are necessary, including studded options. Do not rely on all-season tires for winter travel.
Watch out for wildlife
Keep your driving trips short and try to travel only during the daylight hours. Driving in the dark can be dangerous because wild animals will sometimes leap out onto the highway without warning. Driving during the day will give you more time to stop safely. Large animals, like deer and moose, cross Alaska’s highways often. Be sure to check 511.Alaska.gov prior to your trip for notices on large animal crossings.
Being a cautious driver year-round is always a good idea. But during the winter, when the roads are dangerous, conservative driving can be a lifesaver. Be sure to obey all traffic laws, wear your seatbelt, and drive below posted speed limits. Remember, those speed limits are referencing dry conditions only. Be ready to slow down often, especially while driving on bridges and overpasses, which often are the first parts of the road to ice up. Drive with your headlights turned on so oncoming traffic can see you, and always leave plenty of room between you and the car ahead so even sudden stops upfront leave you safe. Never drive while you’re very tired or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Following these tips and checking the National Weather Service before your trip so you can plan around any adverse weather will ensure your next winter journey is a worry-free one. Safe travels!