(BPT) - Now that frigid temperatures and stormy days have come back in earnest, it's time for car owners to think seriously about the road conditions ahead and take the simple but important steps to ensure safe winter travel this year.

Bad weather is linked to 7,000 deaths, 800,000 injuries and more than 1.5 million crashes every year, according to a long-term study published in the American Journal of Public Health. While these numbers are scary enough, even minor breakdowns can lead to real trouble on snow-packed roads.

"There's nothing worse than breaking down on a cold winter night, stranded on the side of the road," says Jim Fults, auto insurance leader at Fireman's Fund Insurance Company. "A few basic precautions can dramatically reduce the risk of getting stuck on the road, including roadside assistance provided through your insurance policy."

People can avoid or minimize dangerous weather-related breakdowns and accidents by performing regular checks, so motorists are advised to follow these steps to increase the odds of arriving safe and sound:

  • Get Your Car Checked: A professional check is worth it, for added peace of mind.
  • Check Your Tires: Rain, snow and ice can make roads lethal. Check your tire tread and make sure the air pressure is OK.
  • Light the Way: Keep lights clean and make sure they are working.
  • Get Charged Up: A dead battery is the main cause of breakdowns, so get it checked and replaced if necessary.
  • Cooling System: Ensure this is checked and that the anti-freeze content meets the manufacturer requirements.
  • Wipers: Check windscreen wipers and replace if they fail to clear the screen correctly.
  • Fuel: Ensure you have more than enough for your journey.

Be prepared and take the following items with you:

  • A fully charged cellphone
  • Shovel in case of snow
  • De-icer and a scraper for windows
  • Blanket and warm clothing in case the worst happens
  • Sturdy shoes or rubber boots
  • Some snacks, such as energy bars
  • Extra fuel

"We urge motorists to set aside some time to carry out a series of simple checks," Fults says. "Some may seem like common sense, but you'll be surprised at how many drivers forget after the summer. For example, it is crucial to ensure all your lights are clean and working properly. Always replace any broken bulbs immediately. If you don't, you will not only find it difficult to see the road clearly, you run the risk of not being seen by other drivers."

In addition, it is a good idea to put together an emergency winter survival kit so that you are prepared should you breakdown. Remember to include a flashlight, blanket, ice scraper and a first aid kit.

More From KXRB