What Would You Do If You Were Caught Driving in a Blizzard?

Updated on January 02, 2014
S.R. asks from Kansas City, MO
20 answers

So my 16 year old daughter seems to think she is right in this question. I wanted to get all of your opinions. She asked me the other day what I would do if i were caught driving in a blizzard on the interstate. This was my answer: Well I would def slow down and either try to drive home or pull off the interstate somewhere and get a hotel room for the night or maybe just park at a gas station and wait it out if there were no rooms available. She told me i was wrong. She said that her Drivers Ed instructor told her to pull off the side of the road and turn your car off, crack your window and turn your hazards on and then every so often turn the car on to get heat. I said why would you crack your window and she said that lessens the chances of carbon monoxide poisoning.
I said well i dont think i would do that because you never know what the other traffic is going to do and some people may continue driving and i would hate to be a parked car on the side of the road and all of a sudden it getting slammed into because someone is being careless with driving. Am i wrong?? What are your opinions on what you should do?

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So What Happened?

Awesome advice everyone! Very interesting how different views come into play! Stay safe this winter for those of us who live in States where blizzards can come on in a heart beat! Happy New Year!

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answers from Oklahoma City on

I would slow way down and drive in the right lane so others could pass me if they wanted to. I also think that if it's a true blizzard that getting off the road and into a safe shelter is better than missing the lines on the road and driving into a ditch or worse, a creek or river that you didn't see.

So both of you have valid points. I would not sit on the side of the road due to slickness and other drivers not being able to control their vehicles on ice.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Cloud on

Interesting, I asked my daughter what she would do just yesterday and she said pull over on the highway and call her dad. I told her it could be dangerous. It makes me very nervous. My husband said that sounds right about cracking the window. I wouldn't have known that. We had a huge pile up a few weeks ago on the hwy. A couple lives were lost. It makes me very nervous with her just getting her liscense last month.

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answers from Washington DC on

If you are caught in a blizzard, the best thing you can do is pull to the side of the road and turn your hazard lights on. I know there are people who will say otherwise...however...IF YOU CANNOT SEE THE ROAD YOURSELF - you are a danger as well. Blizzards can cause disorientation. If you have no visibility - where do you think you'll end up?

NEVER leave your car. PERIOD. Your car IS your shelter.

Like the couple that was killed in California back in 2006 - they were ill-prepared for the drive. If you are really in Kansas City - you can get some severe weather there...do you have an emergency pack in your car?

In the winter it should contain:
- extra gloves
- blanket (should be in there year round)
- hand warmers
- granola bars
- emergency radio/battery charger - the one you can plug your cell phone in and charge it. The wind up kind are the best (if you aren't prepared and run out of gas - you will NEED a way to contact people to let them know where you are...you can't start your car if you are out of gas...)
- water
- emergency first aid kit



You are safest in your car. If another car hits you? You still have your car to protect you. Many will tell you to keep your seat belt fastened as well so you don't get thrown about.

Your daughter is also correct about leaving the window down an inch so you don't get carbon monoxide poisoning...

here's what NOAA says about emergency blizzard travel...

1. Avoid overexertion and exposure. Attempting to push your car, shovel heavy drifts, and other difficult chores during a blizzard may cause a heart attack even for someone in apparently good physical condition.

2. Stay in your vehicle. Do not attempt to walk out of a blizzard. Disorientation comes quickly in blowing and drifting snow. You are more likely to be found when sheltered in your car.

3. Keep fresh air in your car. Freezing wet snow and wind driven snow can completely seal the passenger compartment.

Beware the gentle killers: Carbon monoxide and oxygen starvation. Run the motor and heater sparingly, and only with the downwind window open for ventilation. Make sure the tailpipe is unobstructed.

4. Exercise by clapping hands and moving arms and legs vigorously from time to time, and do not stay in one position for long.

5. Turn on dome light at night. It can make your vehicle visible to work crews. Keep watch. Do not allow all occupants of the car to sleep at once.

If you are traveling - pay attention to the weather. Even in the summer months. Make sure you have a full tank of gas...

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Appleton on

I live in Wisconsin, blizzards are a way of life here. My last sales job I adveraged about a 1000 miles a week. We had to go out no matter the weather it was part of the job.
In a blizzard the first thing you do is turn on your lights and back window defroster. Drive slowly and carefully. The highways are usually the first roads to be plowed, we stay off the secondary roads. If you know which main roads are considered the police, fire, and ambulance routes stay on them as much as possible, they are plowed first.
If you have the good sense nature gave a goose ---- STAY HOME-----. We now have weather predictions so accurate we often know what time a storm will start way in advance of the storm. If you need --- really need something from the store such as milk, bread, or other essentials go get them. When you get home put them away, find a good movie or book and wait out the storm.
I keep a snow shovel on my back porch from November through April. This way I can shovel my way to the garage where the snow thrower lives.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

You are both right, it depends on the circumstances. If you are still able to drive reasonably safely you should keep going until you can pull off the interstate and ride out the storm in a safe place.
If the storm is too bad to drive in or you get stuck in the snow (obviously no more driving then) you have to pull over as far as possible, if you still can, and ride out the storm in your car.

Cracking the window ever so often and running your car for short amounts of time will help avoid hypothermia but you have to be aware of the risk of CO poisoning. If your exhaust pipe is covered in snow you should keep the car turned off.
You should also always have a supply of water, food and warm blankets in your car if you drive in an area that is prone to snowfall and low temps. I would also recommend stocking several 'handwarmers' in your car. They will provide enough warmth to avoid running the motor and risking CO poisoning.

The one thing that you should NEVER do is abandon your car in search of the next town. First of all you are MUCH better off in your car with the hazards on in terms of avoiding being slammed into. Second if someone slams into you, you at least have a chance of survival if you are still in the car - if you are a pedestrian you will be dead.

Unless you can literally SEE the place you are going to, stay put!
Do NOT leave your car, it will be the first thing to be found - much easier for a rescue crew to spot a car stuck in a snowdrift along an interstate than a lone person lost in the in the deep snow in the middle of nowhere.

I think it's important to mention this because of these stupid survivalist shows on TV that show these survival specialists leaving their car behind to walk to safety... your likelihood of being found fastest is highest if you stay put.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Richland on

Well when you are talking about 16 year olds you probably don't want them moving so I see her teachers point of view. Yes when a car is not running it is the same as sticking your head in a plastic bag, only bigger.

Where I believe he goes wrong or maybe didn't make it clear, you get to the next off ramp, you do not pull over to the side because there will be people still driving and they like to play bumper cars.

Really though if I were teaching kids I would say in the winter, check the damn weather before you go on a long trip!! It isn't like there is such a thing as a pop up blizzard! you get good warning.

My husband and I had to drive home from Peoria to St Louis in a blizzard. You don't want to be driving in them! We had to go around a fifty car pile up on 55.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Well a literal blizzard? Where the wind is whipping at at least 35 mph and visibility is less than 1/4 of a mile for at least 3 hours? Hopefully, I wouldn't be out in one.

For a new driver, the teacher's instructions are correct. Driving with snow, wind, and low visibility is tough for an experienced driver and totally disorienting and dangerous for an inexperienced driver. It is safest for an inexperienced driver to pull over and wait until the wind dies down and visibility increases. By staying on the interstate, the driver can at least be assured that there will be other traffic around in case of an emergency, vs. wandering off the highway onto a secondary road where the roads may not be cleared for hours or days. What I would add to the instructions is for the driver to check to make sure the tailpipe is clear of accumulating snow before turning the car on.

As an experienced, driver, I would drive on the interstate towards home unless and until I felt that my visibility was compromised to a degree where it was no longer safe to drive. I was driving in a fairly light storm last year where the snow was falling in such a way that it was dancing and swirling in my headlights (and those of the other drivers on the highway) and I was getting very dizzy trying to ignore the flakes and focus on the road, so the difficulty with visibility in snow is fresh in my mind. If it had been much worse, I would have had to have pulled over until the wind died down a bit before continuing.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

I would never pull over on the side of an interstate. That's just asking to get hit by another car that slides right into you.

I got caught in quite the snow storm years ago. I was behind a truck and I followed him judiciously. I was looking for a hotel because it was night time, but I kept following that truck. I did get home.

There is no real ONE answer to this. If it's white-out conditions, then you're just plain screwed. If it's icy, that's another thing. I had a car that you could push the "snow" button on and it put it into 4 wheel drive. I could drive without worrying, while other people were on the side of the road facing backwards, on their sides, in the ditch... And yeah, one car ran into another one that was on the side of the road. Icy conditions can do that.

Your daughter probably has very little experience driving in snow. You do. You go by your experience and your wisdom being an adult and older driver. Hopefully she won't get caught in a snow storm until she is more experienced.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Happened to me once. I got to about 2 1/2 miles from home - we were diverted off the highway and onto the local road that goes to my house. I was with my daughter, we were on our way home from a college visit. If it happened to me again, I'd definitely be trying to find a place to pull off and a hotel with a room. Remember that the driver's ed teacher is teaching teens, who don't have driving experience. If they were suddenly caught in a blizzard, then it would be safest for them to not be on the road. Also, the teacher is correct about cracking the window. If you're letting the car run, and the snow is accumulating, the exhaust pipe could be buried in the snow and carbon monoxide poisoning could occur.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

You are both right.
The difference between your answer and hers is whether the road is impassable or not.
IF you can keep going and the road isn't closed and you can see where you are going, then keep moving.
If you can't move you've got no choice, then your daughter (and her driving instructor) is correct.
You want to conserve energy, stay warm, and avoid carbon monoxide poisoning (it can happen if the snow gets deep enough to cover your exhaust pipe) - you also want to stay visible so a plow or other vehicle doesn't run into you.
Some places are not safe to pull off the road but if you're stuck in a snow bank you're stuck even if it's not the most ideal location (use your cell phone to call for help - either get towed out or evacuated (police or rescue squad comes to get you - you don't leave your vehicle unless someone comes to rescue you) to someplace safe till it's ok to come back for your car).
If the weather forecast recommends staying off the roads then avoid going out in it and stay home.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Grand Forks on

The best thing is to get behind a snow plow, if you can, and follow it somewhere safe and warm. If you don't have that option, and you are in a white out and unable to see the road, then sure, what the driver ed instructor said. Don't keep driving if you can't see the road. I have never been in this type of situation because they usually close the highways if the conditions are too bad for driving here.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbia on

There's a big difference between heavy snow (where you'd slow down, pull off, and try to wait it out at a hotel), and blizzard conditions. In a blizzard you can't see ANYTHING. You're lucky to make it to the side of the road and not end up in the ditch.

Your daughter's driver's ed instructor is absolutely right, but they left out that the driver should attempt to clear the exhaust pipe whenever possible and keep it clear.

Check this out: http://www.chicagotribune.com/topic/hc-state-starts-to-re...

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answers from Huntington on

Good advice already and I just wanted to add DO NOT LEAVE YOUR CAR. in fact, if you need to get out of your car, at all, get out on the passenger's side. If visibility is low, as well as the road being slick with snow and ice, there is a possibility of car hitting you if you get out. In fact, sadly, my uncle once was in a blizzard driving a semi truck. He could barely see and as horrible luck had it, a man got out of his car on the side of the road right as my uncle drove by and was run over and killed.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chattanooga on

I agree with the ones who say it is based on the experience of the driver.

I have had to drive in white-out conditions, where I could BARELY see past the hood of my car... I had to find the rumble strip and drive on it to even know where I was in the road! I made it to my junction, where i found a gas station and hung out until e weather cleared. (Got some free hot chocolate from the attendant. :) lol.) where I lived, often a "slight chance" of show would come over the mountain as a blizzard, while the "storm of the century" would turn out to be a little flurry. Checking the weather wasn't too reliable. Lol.

Driving in a blizzard is scary... Some people are over confident, and just speed right along... Not good, as their speed does not allow them time to react with such limited visibility. Others are over cautious, and creep slowly or stop on the road (it's pretty hard to pull over far enough when you can't see the road...) which is just as dangerous as drivers behind them likely won't be able to react as quickly.

So, the key is to drive as fast as the visibility will allow (which will vary depending on the condition of the road, and the experience of he driver...), find a safe place, and get off the road. If she is familiar with the area and know there is a safe place nearby, I would prefer my teen driver to try to make it there. If not, then pulling over with the hazards is the better bet... And just hope some jackass isn't speeding blind.

As far as heating the car, I have always kept an emergency kit that includes a couple candles (which will provide QUITE a bit of heat in a car...), road flares, a blanket, and water. I would recommend putting something similar together for your daughter... Setting a road flare (I prefer the electric, not flame, ones.) several feet behind the vehicle will provide more of a warning to oncoming traffic that there is something on the road ahead, and also signal to any passing emergency personnel that she could use some help. (You don't have to exit the car... Just open the passenger door, lean out, and toss the flare as far as possible behind the vehicle.)

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answers from Minneapolis on

Sitting on the side of the road like that is just asking to be hit by another car. I'm pretty sure that it's actually illegal to pull over on the freeway unless it's an emergency (Or you are getting pulled over by a police officer).

I would keep going, driving slowly. If it was REALLY bad, I would pull off at the nearest exit and just wait it out somewhere.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Rochester on

Been there done that! Almost rear ended a snowplow that I couldn't see in front of me. Only by the grace of God did I not slide into the back of it. Stupidly, every blizzard I have ever driven in I kept going. Once, only following the taillights of the car in front of me. I didn't realize we had taken an exit until the car I was following pulled into a gas station. Not a wise move to drive in a blizzard. However, I agree with you that I would rather drive until I can find a gas station to be at. But, that isn't what is recommended.

Number one is to leave your house prepared to be stranded anytime you travel in the winter. Someone else had a good list of things to always have in your car during the winter (even if you are just driving across town). Always keep at least a 1/2 tank of gas.

Number two NEVER leave your car! Turn on hazard lights and the dome light. The car will need to run for short amounts of time or your battery will go dead. But, don't let it run continuously. You don't want to run out of gas.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

I have no idea, I live in AZ. However, typically in "bad" weather, I don't go out. Not sure how realistic that is in places other than AZ, but that is my opinion. =0)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Anchorage on

I agree with you, your daughter's way would be unnecessarily dangerous and you also run a risk of being out of gas out in the middle of no where. If you must stay in your car parked somewhere then a well lit area like a gas station is your safest bet IMO.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

I think she's misunderstanding what she heard. You crack the window if you keep the car running in case carbon comes into the car through cracks in the seats or what not. If the car is not running you do not crack the window. You'll freeze. You only pull over on the side of the road if you can absolutely not go any further and there is no other safe place to pull over. Pulling over on the side of the road is always last resort. Flashers on when pulled over, yes. In a blizzard, you don't want to get caught on the side of the road if possible. If you can't see ahead of you how can the people behind you see in front of them and see you? (flashers on or not) And if the roads are bad they can slide into you. She's only partially right. I think she may have misunderstood what she heard or the instructor didn't explain it properly.

Problem with driving lessons is that there's the book way and the actual driving way. I've had to explain this to my 18 year old. He has a permit and I have to let him know that the book says to do "this" so do it for your test, but in actual practice, people do "this" instead. You should know the legal way of doing it and the applicable way of doing it.

K. B
mom to 5 including triplets

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answers from Philadelphia on

I don't want to say your daughter is wrong. However I would try my best to do what you said. Then it wasn't possible at all I would do what your daughter said. I have heard many times over the years people stuck in their car on the side of the road. Desperately waiting for help to arrive.
I think you need life experience with this question. Techincally your daughter might be correct but in the long run it most likely beca foolish choice.

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