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Gear you should have in your car all winter

Winter driving increases your risks, and not just because you're more likely to lose control of your vehicle on the slick pavement. You also have to consider the impact of the weather conditions after a crash.

It's easy to underestimate it because you never expect to get into an accident. For instance, imagine that you're driving 20 minutes to the store. You warm your car up in advance, so you don't put on a coat, hat or gloves when you leave. You'll only be outside for a few minutes, after all, walking through the parking lot. You don't need all of that gear.

Then, halfway to the store, another driver loses control and slides through a stop sign. They hit the back end of your car, sending you into a spin on the ice. You hit your head on the window, lose consciousness and wake up with your car sitting in the ditch.

Now you're injured, you're miles from home and you don't have any warm weather gear. No, you didn't expect to be here, but you're in serious danger because you're not prepared.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stresses winter driving preparedness for just this reason. They suggest you always have the following in your car:

  • Salt, kitty litter or sand. You can use these to give your car traction if you get stuck on the ice. Sometimes, you only need to move a few feet to get yourself out.
  • An ice scraper, a broom and a snow shovel. These help you clear off your car's windows if you get stuck in a storm, making an accident less likely, and they allow you to dig yourself out if you go off of the road.
  • Water, food, medicine you cannot live without and a cellphone charger. Perhaps nothing is as important as your phone, allowing you to contact emergency services. But you also want to be prepared to spend the night in your car.
  • A flashlight and flares. A lot of winter accidents turn even more severe because of secondary accidents. If you can't get your car out and you need to stay in it while you wait for emergency crews, use the flashlight and flares to warn passing cars. The last thing you need is someone else losing control on the ice and hitting you again.
  • Blankets and warm weather gear. Don't assume that you won't stay outside longer than it takes to walk through the parking lot. Prepare as if you'll have no other choice. Remember, on very cold days in a disabled car, it does not take long for issues like hypothermia and even frostbite to set in.

Naturally, even carrying this gear doesn't help you prevent the initial accident. Make sure you know how to seek compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages and other costs.

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