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Survival tools: Preparing for winter travel crucial in cold climate

It's that time of year again, when a routine car trip taken in warmer times can slide into a real-life struggle for survival.

It's the time of year to be prepared with a cold-weather survival kit in the trunk of the car or back of the family van or SUV.

Not that most people are prepared. Capt. Al Salvatore of the North Dakota Highway Patrol says the majority of people don't carry even the most basic survival gear in the vehicle.

"I guess I've never done a survey on it, but - probably about 10 percent of the people, if that," pack the car for winter emergencies, Salvatore says.

He notes that it's difficult to come up with an exact number unless an officer actually inspects the trunk after an accident, which they rarely do.

Still, gathering survival items is a cheap way to provide for safety, since most people already have what they need in the house, says Gene LeDoucer, public affairs director for AAA North Dakota.

"It shouldn't cost (drivers) any more than $20," LeDoucer says.

The list is familiar to anybody who's spent more than a winter or two in the Northern Plains:

• A coffee can and candle to use as a miniature furnace

• Blankets

• Extra gloves, hat and boots

• Sand or kitty litter that can be put under tires to aid traction

• Some high-energy snack food like nuts or high-energy bars

• Shovel

• A first-aid kit

That last item doesn't even need to be anything extensive, although pre-packaged ones are readily available. The minimum is a few bandages, so "if they've been out working on their car or shoveling and they cut their finger, they should be able to take care of themselves," LeDoucer says.

Technology also has provided one more important item, LeDoucer says: a cell phone, "probably the No. 1 safety tool in most cases."

People going on extended car trips often pack a survival kit just for that, but he cautions that a relatively short trip still requires precautions.

Even a trip to the next town over "could be a potentially dangerous situation," he says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Tom Pantera at (701) 241-5541

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