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better driver

A Sarnia police officer checks on stranded motorists on London Line, East of Sarnia, Ont., on Tuesday Dec. 14, 2010. Two military helicopters took to the air to try to help 300 people trapped in their vehicles by a snowstorm.Glenn Ogilvie

We've already seen a number of nasty winter storms and we're sure to see more before spring. Every time there's a storm, someone is sure to get stranded, but being prepared makes it easier.

Take a few minutes now to put together an emergency kit; you'll be glad you did, should that fateful time come when conditions cause you to stop and stay that way for hours - either on the road or because you slid off it.

First things first, find or buy a kit or overnight bag about the size of a couple of plastic grocery bags. You'll be able to establish the right size after reading through this list of suggestions. It should be waterproof and made of a material that will remain pliable in extremely cold conditions.

Now place one side of a strip or two of Velcro on the bottom of the bag and the other(s) in a remote corner of the trunk or cargo space. That way when you are finished loading the bag and put it in the trunk, it won't be constantly sliding around. If the trunk is carpeted, you can probably use only the hook side of the Velcro If there is a suitable tie-down spot, you can also use a bungee cord or two to secure the bag in place.

Now let's fill the bag. In no particular order you should obtain:

  • Small containers of gas line antifreeze and lock de-icer.
  • A set of flares or folding plastic warning triangles.
  • A blanket.
  • Thick wool socks, oversize boots, mittens and a thick hat with fold-down ear covers or pair of ear muffs. Raid the closet for little-used but bulky and warm items. You can also use these items to wrap others within the bag to prevent rattling.
  • A LED flashlight: A flashlight is a good idea but chances are the batteries will be dead when you need it, so make sure it will also operate off the 12-volt system. The best bet is an LED version, which is compact yet powerful, and will use less energy, allowing batteries to last longer
  • A charger for your cell phone.
  • Jumper cables.
  • A 10-metre length of rope or tow strap
  • A small folding shovel: it can be wrapped in the blanket to prevent it from moving around in the trunk
  • A candle, waterproof matches or instant lighter and a clean old juice can. The candle in the can is capable of supplying some much-needed heat and light when stranded in a dark, remote location.
  • A first-aid kit.
  • Energy food: A couple of high-energy snack bars from the grocery or health food store - with no expiry date.
  • Shelter: A plastic drop sheet or small tarp folds into a very small package and would certainly be appreciated if the incident has left your vehicle in an unfriendly place like a river or down a bank. It will also help cover holes made by broken windows and keep the elements out and heat in.
  • A spare pair of glasses if the intended driver uses them.
  • Duct tape: Its ability to hold almost anything together could be critical.
  • A long bungee cord: Besides holding the bag of emergency equipment in one place, it may hold car parts in place or a door closed after a crash.
  • A coat hanger: it can be used for a number of repairs or to hold things together. It's also useful to stick up above a snow bank to help others locate you.
  • Multipurpose tool like a Swiss Army knife wrapped in an oil-soaked cloth: put it in a water-proof baggie to make sure it doesn't get rusted shut.
  • A small bag of kitty litter to create some grip where none exists.

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