How to Stay Safe and Healthy While Driving This Winter

winter driving

Winter driving can be risky, and driving in Pennsylvania is no exception. Pennsylvania is considered one of the most dangerous states to drive in during the winter months, according to the National Highway Transportation Agency. Last year, snow and sleet caused nearly 8,500 vehicular crashes.

Beyond accidents on the road, there are other things to keep in mind to stay safe behind the wheel this winter, such as hypothermia and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Know the signs of hypothermia.

Hypothermia is caused by exposure to very cold temperatures. When you experience hypothermia, your body loses heat faster than it can produce it.

“Hypothermia is a medical emergency, as your heart, nervous system and other organs stop working as they should,” explained Jacob Cauvel, DO, an emergency medicine physician at Penn Highlands Healthcare. “Left untreated, it can lead to heart failure and eventually death.”

The signs of hypothermia may include:

  • Shivering
  • Slurred speech or mumbling
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Weak pulse
  • Clumsiness or lack of coordination
  • Drowsiness or very low energy
  • Confusion or memory loss
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Bright red, cold skin (in infants)

If you are not able to obtain medical help right away, warm the center of the person’s body (chest, neck, head and groin). Use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels or sheets. After their body temperature has increased, keep them dry, wrap them in a warm blanket, and get medical attention as soon as possible.

Carry an emergency kit.

If your car dies and you are stuck without heat, hypothermia becomes a very real concern. That is why building an emergency kit to keep in your car is a smart idea.

Items for inclusion in an emergency kit include:

  • Battery-operated cell phone charger
  • First aid kit
  • Jumper cables
  • Flares
  • Water and snacks
  • Flashlight
  • Blankets
  • Extra coats, hats and gloves
  • Ice scraper

Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The road is not the only place you need to be careful this winter. Carbon monoxide from a parked, running car can build up in a garage or another enclosed space and cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when too much of the odorless gas is in the air, causing the body to replace the oxygen in red blood cells with carbon monoxide,” said Dr. Cauvel. “This can lead to permanent brain damage, heart damage and even death.”

Never run your car inside a garage with the door closed. Do not run your car inside an attached garage even if the door is open either, as carbon monoxide can seep into your house. If you drive a truck or SUV with a tailgate, open the vents or windows whenever you open the tailgate to prevent exhaust from being pulled into the car.

If you are exposed to carbon monoxide, move into fresh air and seek medical care immediately. Call 911 if someone exposed to carbon monoxide is unresponsive.

Penn Highlands Healthcare provides emergency care you can count on throughout Pennsylvania. Penn Highlands Emergency Medicine physicians and their teams are experts at treating people experiencing traumatic injuries from car accidents, carbon monoxide poisoning, hypothermia and other incidents. Penn Highlands DuBois is a Level II Trauma Center that treats hundreds of patients every year and offers the most comprehensive care and capabilities to treat every type of trauma. To learn more, please visit