What do you do if your car breaks down this winter on an isolated road or maybe slippery roads cause you to slide into a ditch? What do you do if your car won’t drive and you don’t have any cell phone reception? Should you stay with the car or go for help?
According to Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, professor of thermophysiology at the University of Manitoba and one of the world’s foremost authorities on the body’s response to cold, the answer is clear. The hypothermia expert says you should stay with the car.
“Leaving the car and potentially getting lost and stranded without shelter puts you at risk for frostbite or hypothermia,” explains Giesbrecht. “Given certain conditions, such as wind chill and wetness from rain or snow, you can begin to suffer from hypothermia, even in temperatures above freezing. This can quickly become life-threatening.”
Giesbrecht adds that survival in this situation comes down to the 3 P’s: preparation, prevention and performance.
Preparation. Prepare for a reasonable worst-case scenario, like being stranded overnight in the cold. Keep a bag in your trunk with items for insulation, such as a sleeping bag or blanket, an old parka, snow pants and spare mitts and boots. Other important items include a wide-based candle and lighter or matches, and non-perishable snacks.
Prevention. Do what you can to avoid being stranded in the first place. For example, make sure your car is working properly and your tires are inflated and in good shape. Ensure you have a full tank of gas and avoid travelling in poor weather conditions. If you must travel, share your plans. Ensure a friend or relative knows of your route and estimated arrival time.
Performance. Know what to do if you do get stranded. Stay with your car. If you’re stuck but the motor still works, make sure that your tailpipe is free of any snow or ice so that you can run the car intermittently for heat. Staying with the car also gives search and rescue teams a larger object to spot. Statistics show that 95 per cent of searches are successful within 24 hours.