Four thousand per day: that’s the average amount of calls the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) receives in its South Central Ontario region during winter. And while that number doubles during severe weather, Nadia Matos said the reasons behind those surges are not always what you might expect.
“Surprisingly, it’s not the big winter snowfalls that trigger the most calls for roadside assistance,” said Matos, external communications manager for the CAA.
“Where we tend to get hit hardest with requests is when that deep, deep freeze comes on, which can take a significant toll on car batteries and make it all the more common for people to get stuck.”
It is for this reason, said Matos, that having a well thought out emergency kit in your car — particularly in Ontario — is of the utmost importance. She said that there is no better time than now to eliminate as many risks as possible before the first flakes of snow have touched the ground.
“Most drivers are aware of the basic supplies that one should have in their car in case of an emergency,” said Matos. “Items such as matches and a blanket, reflectors, water and some non-perishable items like granola bars are important to have in your vehicle all year.”
What many might not readily consider, she said, are items such as a bag of kitty litter, sand or salt to help create traction under tires if the vehicle’s wheels are spinning out, or even paper and pencil to write down potential instructions. Pens, she reminds, are notoriously unreliable in the cold.
“Remember that the ability to communicate is going to be vital in a winter driving emergency,” she said. “We all have a cellphone now and my car has got a USB port, but what happens if your battery is not working and you’re on the side of the road?”
Matos said that with this in mind, CAA highly recommends that if a person is commuting to work or heading out on a longer drive, they should consider adding an external charging unit to their emergency kit. She said that those in doubt about what items to add can double-check their kit against a stranded driver preparedness checklist offered by the CAA on its website.
“Drivers can also purchase vehicle emergency kits both through the CAA and at many stores,” she said. “There are also different levels of kits for different needs; some for those who venture out into more rugged landscape and some for just daily driving.”
Kerry Schmidt, a sergeant with the OPP’s Highway Safety Division, said that having an emergency kit on-hand in one’s car is imperative all year long, but adds that its presence is the most important during winter, when driving conditions can become challenging and even deadly.
“You really don’t realize when you’re stuck there for hours on end how critical having emergency supplies is,” said Schmidt.
The sergeant said that even he has leaned on supplies from his own emergency kit during a winter conundrum. He urges drivers to go a step further this winter to ensure that their car is adequately prepared for the season.
“Take the time now to get acquainted with your spare tire,” said Schmidt. “Is it properly inflated? Is it actually in your vehicle? Do you know where it is, and do you know what to do if one goes flat?”
He said that having a pair of boots, gloves and a parka available is very important, as commuters have been known to get stuck in freezing conditions wearing only their work attire.
“Make sure your vehicle is maintained. That it’s running well and is reliable,” he said. “Be mindful that we’re also going to get into daylight savings and the days will of course be shorter. Always try to remember to have those headlights in the on position so that you have taillights shining behind you.”
Schmidt said that now is time to inspect your emergency kit — open it up and make sure everything works – and to replenish such things as windshield wiper fluid, which can make the difference between low visibility and no visibility in a sudden onslaught of winter weather.
“I’ve personally run out of washer fluid and when you get that little bit of mist that comes off of other vehicles that’s when you’re going to need it.”
Schmidt said that general winter maintenance, such as putting on your winter tires, is certainly important, but it is never a guarantee of safety. That’s why, he said, an emergency kit is a must for any Ontario driver.
“Always remember when heading out on a winter drive to have a plan and to have someone aware of where you are,” he said. “If you don’t feel comfortable don’t go out.”
What does the CAA suggest you pack in your emergency kit? Here are just a few of the items it recommends (for a full list visit caa.ca
- A small tool kit with screwdriver, pliers and other items
- Extra fuses for the vehicle’s electrical system
- Bottles water and granola bars
- A small shovel with long handle along with a snow brush and scraper
- Plenty of windshield washer fluid, de-icers and gas-line antifreeze