Dangerously cold weather’s potential impact on the human body should not be underestimated. Hypothermia can kill people. This medical condition occurs when the body, which is normally at 37 °C,4 can no longer maintain a temperature of 35°C. A body that is too cold over prolonged periods of time can prove fatal, with the risk increasing as the weather hits sub-zero temperatures. To put it into perspective, the risk is a serious one when the weather is at sub-zero temperatures. For example, the government once released a warning regarding the risk of hypothermia as a result of travelling at night in the Free State province.2
Preventing your car from breaking down in freezing cold weather is crucial. So, it is best to ensure that your car is mechanically sound for the planned journey. Ask yourself the following questions before you hit the road:
- Is your car roadworthy?
- Are the tyres, wipers and other mechanical components well-equipped for the road?
- Is the antifreeze or coolant at the required concentration for extremely cold weather?
- It is also important to remember to drive with your main headlight beams on at all times.2
It is highly recommended that your cell phone is fully charged and the petrol tank is filled up before embarking on your journey. Let your friends or family know when you leave and when you are expected to arrive at your destination.
As always, find out what the weather and traffic predictions are regarding your trip. Consider if you are dressed for the weather. It is best not to rely too much on your car’s heater to stay warm while driving. Take a flask of hot coffee or hot chocolate for you to drink on the road when it is safe to do so.
When do you want to leave? Can your trip be delayed until it is warmer – perhaps the following day? It’s invariably much colder at night than during the day, so avoid driving at night.2
Please ensure that you adjust your driving style to compensate for extreme weather. Driving on icy roads requires a more cautious driving style, similar to when you’re driving through a rainstorm. Seeing that there is less grip on a road covered with ice, it is essential to slow down and increase the following distance between your car and the car in front of it. If there is poor visibility due to a snowstorm, driving slowly provides you with more time to spot any potential obstacles in the road.2
Some tips if your car breaks down in extremely cold weather3,5
Should you, unfortunately, breakdown in dangerously cold weather, please follow these steps:
- Have a winter emergency kit. Keep enough blankets, a torch, and a phone charger, along with the usual medical first aid kit. If it is snowing on your route, consider keeping a spade and a large bag of sand/salt/kitty litter in the boot of your car.
- Keep warm in your car. You might want to find help but beware of the risk of hypothermia.
- Be careful not to leave your car engine running continually if you don’t know exactly when help is coming. Let the engine run for only 5 to 10 minutes every half an hour. Slightly open a car window to let fresh air in when it becomes stale, but remember to close it again.
- Don’t use too much energy and heat trying to free your car if it is stuck in a ditch. Give yourself only 15 minutes to do this if you think you are physically and medically up to it.
- If your car is stuck in snow:
- Don’t spin your car’s wheels as it may make the situation worse.
- Turn your steering wheel from side to side several times to push the snow out of the way.
- Use a spade to clear the snow away from the car’s wheels and underside.
- Pour sand/salt/kitty litter in front of your car’s wheels, which should help the tyres get more grip.
- Rock your car while lightly touching the accelerator pedal when in first gear and then slowly put the car in reverse gear and reverse out of the snow if it is safe to do so. Please check the car manual for more information.
- Stay hydrated. Keep taking warm drinks like coffee until help arrives.
- It is best to stay awake. The risk of hypothermia is greater if you fall asleep. Keep yourself moving and awake while sitting in your car, even if it means singing to yourself.
It’s a good habit to be as prepared for every journey we make, regardless of the weather. Car insurance should be highly prioritised on one’s journey. Do you have car insurance? Find out more about car insurance with PMD.
This article was prepared by Eric Sandmann in his personal capacity. The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views and opinions of Prime Meridian Direct (Pty) Ltd, FSP41040 (car insurance and life cover products). The views and opinions in the article should not be attributed to anyone but the author unless expressly stated. Nothing in this article should be relied upon as advice, this publication is presented for informational purposes only. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found in this article, without first obtaining proper financial advice from the appropriate professional. The author makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, or completeness, of any information linked from, referred to, or contained in this article. The author reserves the right, to edit and change the content of this article.
Advice on Safe Driving in Winter / Driving on Snow and Ice https://t.co/eXIKwvX8ag #ArriveAlive #WinterDriving @SnowReportSA @ReenvalSA @SAWeatherServic @AfricaWeather_ @eNCAWeather pic.twitter.com/TWfgL0b8l8
— Arrive Alive (@_ArriveAlive) July 21, 2019