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.
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- Will your next car wake you up when you fall asleep at the wheel?
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