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Driving in snow: how to be prepared for an emergency

Preparing in advance can make a huge difference if you're stranded while driving in the snow
Preparing in advance can make a huge difference if you're stranded while driving in the snow
Jeff Zelevansky, Getty Images

When the weather forecast calls for snow and ice, it’s always best to stay home until the roads are cleared and the freezing temperatures warm again. However, if you must drive in snow or freezing rain, preparing a first aid kit and emergency roadside supplies before you set out could mean the difference between a scary or miserable experience, or just an inconvenience.

If your car broke down or you became stranded on the side of the road, the following supplies could help you through a difficult experience without adding more stress to the situation.

Emergency contact numbers

Though you should have a fully charged cell phone and charger that plugs into the car, you should never rely on your cell alone for emergency contact numbers. Good old-fashioned pen and paper could save your life or get help to you quickly if your phone battery should die, you are out of range for a cell phone tower, or you drop your phone in the snow. Before you travel, write down the names and phone numbers of friends and family as well as your insurance company’s roadside assistance number, the numbers for several towing companies, your doctor’s office, and your pediatrician’s office. If you need a ride, a tow, or someone to talk you through a medical emergency, you’ll be fully prepared.


Before driving in the snow, put together a box of medication. If you regularly take prescription medication, make sure you have 2-3 days worth on hand. The last thing you need is a serious medical complication from lack of thyroid replacement, blood pressure medication, Insulin or other life-sustaining medication. Those with allergies or Asthma should also be sure to have extra Epi-pens and inhalers. Aside from life-saving medicine, be sure you have antacids, migraine relief, Benadryl in case of allergic reaction, Anti-Depressants, or any other over-the-counter meds you take occasionally.

First Aid Kit

Your first aid kit should include alcohol wipes, gauze, cloth tape, Band-aids in several sizes and shapes, Ibuprofen for children and adults, tweezers, small scissors, Neosporin, Latex or rubber gloves, and compress dressings for wounds. Be sure to include aspirin as well. Even if you don’t normally take aspirin, it could save your life if suddenly struck by a heart attack.


There are many non-perishable items you can keep in your car in case you are stranded while driving in a winter snow storm. Protein bars, nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, raisins, dried fruit, peanut butter, Nutella, crackers, dry cereal, cereal bars, granola bars, Rice Krispy treats, jam, and beef jerky are good choices. If your pets are traveling with you, make sure you bring along food for them as well. For your convenience, pack hand sanitizer, wet wipes and plastic bags for trash as well.


If stranded in the snow or freezing temperatures, you can lose body warmth very quickly. Be sure your vehicle is stocked with heavy blankets, extra clothing for every member of the family, extra sock hats, gloves and scarves, socks, and instant-heat products such as Hot Hands, which, when their seals are broken, become warm and give off heat for as much as 12 hours. Empty bread bags can also come in hand to use as make-shift snow boots. Slide them on like socks and fasten to shins with pony tail holders, ribbon or even another bread bag tied around the top.

Emergency restroom supplies

As much as you may hate the thought of having to use the restroom anywhere but a proper facility, you’ll be much worse off if you haven’t thought ahead and you’re stranded for hours. Bring along empty containers and kitty litter, a potty seat for young children and extra training pants. Those with infants or special needs may also need to bring a supply of diapers or Poise Pads. Make sure you’ve packed enough hand sanitizer and wet wipes for a lengthy delay as well.

Emergency roadside supplies

When traveling in the snow, you should always have a bright red flag to tie to your car in the event it’s caught in a snow drift so help can find you. You should also have booster cables, ice scrapers and de-icer, windshield washer fluid, a tool kit, a foldable or child-sized shovel if not a full-sized version, sand or cat litter to give traction to stuck tires, flares or hand-crank flashlights, and if possible, orange cones to outline your car in low visibility.

Pre-travel preparation

Before you drive in the snow, it’s wise to make sure your vehicle has been properly maintained. Check the air pressure in the tires, anti-freeze, and oil and transmission fluid levels. Fill the tank with gas, replace worn windshield wipers, and replace older spark plugs.

Infant and child protection

If your child’s car seat does not yet have one, adhere a W.H.A.L.E. sticker that identifies your child. Older children should have a slip of paper tucked into their pockets with their names, date of birth, an allergy alerts, pediatrician’s name, and family contact information clearly written or typed out. If the adult or adults in the car become incapacitated due to accident or sickness, emergency responders can better help your not-yet-talking, or injured children if they are properly identified.

In addition to the tips given above, before you set out driving in the snow or sleet, be sure to alert a friend or relative as to your estimated arrival time and the route you’re taking to get there. Do not deviate from your route. In case you don’t arrive, it gives family and emergency personnel a way to back track and find you.

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