Imagine driving along the interstate just as the snow is beginning to fall. If you make good time and don't stop, you should be safe at home in just a couple more hours. Unfortunately, a couple of tractor trailers have jackknifed across the roadway up ahead, causing traffic to back up for miles. The snow intensifies, icing over to turn road surfaces into a skating rink. Despite a frantic response involving emergency crews and the National Guard, you become one of many people stuck, in freezing temperatures, in their cars, for more than 20 hours. Mayhem ensues.
Does this sound like a treatment for a melodramatic, made-for-TV movie? Or perhaps an incident that crippled motorists in some underdeveloped country? Such a thing could never really happen in the United States, right? Actually, this exact scenario played out in Pennsylvania in February 2007. It offered a pretty stark example of why every driver would be wise to keep a roadside emergency kit stashed in the back of his or her vehicle.
While today's cars and SUVs are more reliable than ever, you can still easily become stranded night or day. You never know when a belt will break, a tire will deflate or an act of nature will delay you from reaching your destination. An emergency kit won't keep you safe through the entire Apocalypse, but it can provide some warmth and sustenance for a few hours or even days, until help can arrive.
For between $25 and $40, you can pop into your local auto supply store or discount warehouse store and purchase a pre-assembled kit. Otherwise, you can piece one together on your own. Here are a few of the necessities you ought to have:
- Jumper cables or battery re-charging device
- Quart of oil
- Bottled water (which can double as engine coolant)
- Emergency roadside flares
- Plastic tarp
- "Multi-tool" handheld miniature toolkit
- Tire sealant
- Granola or other snack bars
- First aid kit with assortment of bandages
- Flashlight and batteries
- Nylon bag to keep everything contained and tidy
And naturally, you'd want to check your kit every six months or so to consume and replace perishables and check batteries.
As you've read in the preceding pages, responsible drivers have good reason to fear things that go bump in the night. When darkness falls, you take a bigger risk when getting behind the wheel, plain and simple. Fortunately, you can take preventive measures like getting plenty of rest, avoiding food and drink that will impair your driving and wearing a seatbelt, to dramatically boost your odds of nighttime driving survival.
Author's Note: 5 Tips for Driving Safely at Night
I'm not sure why, but it shocked me just a bit in my research to learn that automobile accidents kill more than 40,000 people per year in the United States alone. That's a death toll equivalent to 14 September 11-scale terrorist attacks each year. A disproportionate number of these accidents happen at night, either because people have to work, or because that's the only time they have left to be social outside of work. I love the notion of freedom on the open road -- but I've had to re-consider whether it's such a bad idea to have at least some level of self-driving capability in cars -- an idea I once abhorred. One could argue that it would be the ultimate overreach into drivers' personal freedoms. On the other hand, such technology could save lots of lives by removing the error-prone human factor in driving -- especially at night. Think of it as everyone having an opportunity to be chauffeured when they're too tired to drive. Until that technology and its legal implications get sorted out, we can take the preceding five night-driving tips in this article to heart -- for our own safety, that of our passengers and our fellow motorists.
- 10 Most Dangerous Distracted Driving Habits
- 5 Completely Wrong Ways to Drive in the Fog
- 5 Completely Wrong Ways to Drive in the Rain
- How Defensive Driving Works
- How Pre-Collision Systems Work
- How In-Dash Night Vision Systems Work
- How the Jaws of Life Work
- How DUI Works
- Can a car really be death-proof?
- Will your next car wake you up when you fall asleep at the wheel?
- AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. "Blinded by the Light? How to Handle Glare for Safer Driving." 2002. (March 4, 2012) http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-11-29/classified/sc-cons-1124-autotips-20111129_1_eyes-lights-lenses
- AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. "Relationship Between Awareness of Sleepiness and Ability to Predict Sleep Onset." 2003. (March 4, 2012) http://www.aaafoundation.org/resources/research/asleep.cfm
- Elliott, Hannah. "Most Dangerous Times to Drive." Forbes.com. Jan. 21, 2009. (March 6, 2012) http://www.forbes.com/fdc/welcome_mjx.shtml
- FLIR Systems Inc. "BMW incorporates thermal imaging cameras in its cars." (March 2, 2012) http://www.flir.com/uploadedFiles/ApplicationStory_BMW.pdf
- Hingson, Ralph and Winter, Michael. "Epidemiology and Consequences of Drinking and Driving." National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health. (March 3, 2012) http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-1/63-78.htm
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "Questions and Answers: Urban Crashes." 1999. (March 5, 2012) http://www.usroads.com/journals/rmej/9909/rm990901.htm
- Kohnle, Diana. "Health Tip: Safe Driving at Night." ABCNews.com. (March 1, 2012) http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Healthday/story?id=7938837&page=1
- Mead, Scott. "How to Create Your Own Roadside Emergency Kit." Edmunds.com. May 5, 2009. (March 4, 2012) http://www.edmunds.com/how-to/how-to-create-your-own-roadside-emergency-kit.html
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "Drowsy Driving and Automobile Crashes." (March 3, 2012) http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/drowsy_driving1/drowsy.html
- National Sleep Foundation. "Food and Sleep." December 2009. (March 6, 2012) http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/food-and-sleep
- PRNewswire. "Darting Animals, Poor Visibility and Bad Weather Top Three Nighttime Driving Concerns for American Motorists." Oct. 31, 2011. (March 3, 2012) http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/darting-animals-poor-visibility-and-bad-weather-top-three-nighttime-driving-concerns-for-american-motorists-132931938.html
- Risk Control Services. "Safe Driving at Night." (March 3, 2012) http://www.riskcontrolservices.com/Econsultant/2007%20eConsultant/Articles/Article-July%2018-Safe%20driving%20at%20Night.htm
- Science Daily. "New Night Vision System Reduces Car Accidents." Sept. 27, 2007. (March 6, 2012) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070927113215.htm
- Scolforo, Mark. "Pa. makes plans to avoid repeat of Feb. snowstorm fiasco." USA Today. Oct. 29, 2007. (March 5, 2012) http://www.usatoday.com/weather/news/2007-10-29-pa-snowstorm-plans_N.htm
- Senior Journal.com. "Older Motorcycle Riders Death Rate Higher." Sept. 1, 2004. (March 5, 2012) http://seniorjournal.com/NEWS/SeniorStats/4-09-02Bikes.htm
- Stevens, Heidi. "Focus on safe nighttime driving: Optometrist offers tips to help you keep an eye on safety." Chicago Tribune. Nov. 29, 2011. (March 5, 2012) http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-11-29/classified/sc-cons-1124-autotips-20111129_1_eyes-lights-lenses
- Stutts, Jane C., Vaughn, Bradley V. and Wilkins, Jean W. "Why Do People Have Drowsy Driving Crashes? Input from People Who Just Did." AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. 1999. (March 1, 2012) http://www.aaafoundation.org/pdf/Sleep.pdf
- Taylor III, Alex. "Solving the highway death epidemic." CNN Money. April 2, 2008. (March 4, 2012) http://money.cnn.com/2008/04/01/magazines/fortune/tech/night_vision.fortune/index.htm
Pedestrian deaths are up in the U.S. and many factors are to blame. What can be done to stop it? HowStuffWorks looks several ideas from experts.