A Manitoba roadway can be a very cold place if you’re stuck on the side of it waiting for help.
But Manitobans regularly travel in winter without giving the slightest thought to how uncomfortable they’d quickly become if they became stranded in their cars. A survey of 300 Manitobans conducted by Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) finds just over half aren’t properly prepared or equipped to handle a winter emergency.
Fifty-two per cent said they did not have an emergency kit in their car and many said they only had an extra pair of mittens or a tuque, or perhaps a blanket stashed away, said Angèle Young, CAA Manitoba’s public and government affairs specialist.
That’s a start. But you need more than that to stay safe and warm while you wait for help, says Young.
“We always say you should have three kinds of things in your car, those to keep you warm, those to make you visible, and tools that can help you repair the car if necessary.”
Items for survival include food, water, blankets and a basic first aid kit.
Extra clothing and blankets are so necessary because you can’t assume you’ll just keep your car running to stay warm, said Young.
Food items should be non-perishable high-protein foods such as energy bars, and try to have things stashed away that you won’t eat at some other time.
Items for visibility are the flares, reflectors or banners that can be put out to help you be found. Many times CAA personnel have gone looking for stranded motorists and can’t find them in reduced visibility, said Young.
“You need something to be visible,” she said. “A lot of times people will call and say, ‘I’m stuck on this highway between this and this,’ but we can’t find you.”
A flashlight is one item you never want to be without. You never know when you may need one. “A lot of people might know how to change a tire, for example, but if you don’t have light, how are you going to be able to see to do it?” she said.
Having a shovel, kitty litter or traction mats are highly recommended for digging out of snow, while tools for minor repairs will come in handy even if you don’t know how to use them.
“If you get a Good Samaritan who’ll stop and help you, they may know,” she said. “It’s just good to have them in your car just in case.”
All these things enable drivers and their passengers to remain safely in the vehicle for an extended time until help arrives, says Young.
The worst thing to do is get into a situation where you think you need to go looking for help. Leaving your car in sub-zero temperatures or low-visibility conditions is extremely dangerous, yet every year people die in rural areas when their vehicle becomes disabled in the winter and they’ve unsuccessfully tried to walk to safety.
All this advice for weathering out a roadside emergency is just that much more important for rural drivers, said Young. It will likely take longer for CAA roadside assistance to come — or your cellphone won’t work — and you may have to wait that much longer for another driver to come along and offer help.
“You can never know how long it’s going to be,” she said. “It could be 10 or 15 minutes, or even an hour before someone comes along and sees that you’re stranded.
“You should be able to stay in your car for at least a few hours and not be in a compromising situation.”
It’s especially important that women are sufficiently prepared to remain safely inside their vehicles so as to avoid accepting help from someone they don’t know or can’t trust, she adds.
Young said CAA is alerting Manitobans’ attention to the need for preparedness for winter driving this month because we’ve let winter arrive without becoming aware of the significant risks cold weather poses let alone get prepared for it.
“We see a lot of people not even plugging their cars in right now,” she said. “It’s a mindset. It takes a bit of a reminder that you need to get ready for the ‘what ifs’ in life.”
The reminder also comes just as many will be setting out dressed in clothing for Christmas partying that won’t keep them warm if forced to sit out a spell on the roadside.
“A lot of people are in their holiday clothes, like party dresses or guys in dress shirts and shoes,” she said. “They’re not really dressed for the occasion.”
The occasion of a roadside emergency, that is.
For more information, visit caamanitoba.com.