Tips to stay safe while traveling on winter roads

Traffic moves slowly along Plainfield Road due to slick road conditions and low visibility as the snow hits Joliet at the start of the evening rush hour. Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Joliet.

Illinois — Winter has arrived in northern Illinois. The snowstorms and days of subzero temperatures we experienced over the past 10 days has reminded us of the dangers winter weather often presents.

Snow and ice can create hazardous driving conditions, and extreme cold can make things even more dangerous if your car gets stranded.

Be sure to have your car ready for any problems you may encounter.

Road safety

Although the Illinois Department of Transportation recommends avoiding travel during winter weather events or taking public transportation if possible, it also emphasizes that if you must drive, winter is a crucial time to practice safe driving. Slow down when driving in snow or icy conditions, and leave extra space around other vehicles, especially snowplows, salt trucks and stopped emergency vehicles. Avoid using cruise control during winter weather, as conditions can change rapidly.

• Remember to always wear a seat belt and refrain from using hand-held devices while driving. These are both Illinois laws but are even more important in difficult driving conditions.

• Look out for black ice on roads, especially when approaching intersections, bridges, overpasses, ramps or shaded areas, as they are more likely to freeze.

• If your car starts to skid on the ice, ease off the gas or brakes and steer into the skid until you regain control.

• If you must drive during a snowstorm, check the weather and route online before leaving and inform someone of your destination and route.

• Keep your windows clear and defrosted at all times while driving, and be prepared to turn back or stop somewhere safe if conditions become too dangerous.

A truck pulls a car out of the ditch along North Marley Road. Heavy snow accumulated quickly making the evening commute hazardous throughout Will County. Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in New Lenox.

Prepare your car

• If you are traveling by car during a snow event or extremely cold temperatures, always carry a cellphone and make sure you have an emergency supply kit in your car.

This kit should include a cellphone charger, jumper cables, road flares or emergency reflectors, an ice scraper and snow brush, windshield washer fluid, traction material such as sand or kitty litter, blankets, nonperishable food items that don’t need to be cooked, bottled water and a first-aid kit.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency also recommends carrying a flashlight and extra batteries, a knife, a compass and road maps, hand sanitizer, an extra set of dry clothes, tissues or paper towels, a small shovel, a tow cable, and a small can and waterproof matches to melt snow for drinking water in the event of extended isolation.

Teacher Leah Pinkowski cleans the windows of her car Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, at Richmond-Burton Community High School in Richmond, after a winter storm moved through McHenry County creating hazardous driving conditions.

Personal travel safety

IEMA recommends dressing in multiple loose-fitting layers in extreme cold and choosing clothes that are water-resistant. Hoods and hats are recommended to retain warmth, as well as gloves or mittens and wool socks. When outside, cover your mouth and nose with a scarf or face mask to keep from directly breathing frigid air.

• It’s best to start your journey with a full tank of gas and to travel during daylight hours on main roads. If you can avoid traveling alone, you should.

• If your car becomes stuck in the snow, call a tow truck and be prepared to wait several hours before help arrives. Make sure your exhaust pipe is not covered in snow while you wait. If another car can tow you out, use a tow rope with loops on the end to avoid damage to the vehicles and potential injuries.

An Illinois Department of Transporation snow plow heads south on state Route 2, north of Oregon on Friday, Jan. 12, 2024. Crews were out the entire day trying to keep roadways passable. More snow was forecast throughout the night and into Saturday.

• If stranded because of an accident or mechanical failure, pull the car as far to the side of the road as possible and turn on your hazard lights or attach a brightly colored cloth to the mirror or antenna. If it is not snowing, open the hood to signal distress. Try to avoid depleting your car’s battery or fuel.

• Stay in your car unless you clearly see a building where you can seek shelter or assistance. Vigorously move your arms and legs in short bursts to keep strong circulation if you are stranded in extreme cold. Use blankets, maps or car mats for additional insulation if needed. If there is more than one person in the car, take turns sleeping and looking out for help.

Jessie Molloy

Jessie has been reporting in Chicago and south suburban Will and Cook counties since 2011.