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Sheriff's Corner: Brush up on winter driving, safety

With winter making its fast and furious appearance, it’s time for everyone to brush up on their winter driving and safety tips.

During spring, summer and fall, we often forget about some of the basic tips and safety procedures of winter driving. In addition to the basic safe driving habits we practice all year long — buckling up, driving alert and sober, driving at a safe and legal speed and using headlights — there are special precautions that need to be followed during the winter months to ensure everyone’s safety. I have put together some tips from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and Safety Council to share:

• Make sure your car is ready for the season. Have it serviced and checked over by a qualified mechanic and be sure the brakes, battery, exhaust and cooling systems, headlights, fluids, windshield wipers and washers are all in proper working order.

Throughout the winter, keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze. Also check your tires. Good tires and having them properly inflated are important to safe winter driving.

• Keep close tabs on the weather. Avoid traveling, especially alone, if severe weather is forecasted. Before taking a trip, inform someone at your destination of your expected arrival time and your route. If you have friends or elderly neighbors who need to travel, offer to assist them to ensure they get to their destinations or appointments safely.

• Stock your car with basic winter driving equipment: a scraper and brush, small shovel, jumper cables, tow chain or strap and a bag of sand or cat litter for traction. Include emergency items such as road flares, a blanket and a flashlight with fresh batteries.

• Keep an emergency survival kit ( in the car. It should include: a metal bucket or coffee can, a small candle with matches or a disposable lighter, a brightly colored square of cloth such as a bandana, and basic first aid kit. A great guide to a winter survival kit can be found by searching the Internet for “MN DPS Winter Survival Kit.”

• If your car has been outside during a snowfall, take a few extra minutes to brush all the snow off before setting out. Snow left on the front hood will blow into the front vent and cause defrosting problems, and can also melt and re-freeze on the windshield.

Snow on the roof will cover the rear window and snow on the rear deck will blow onto tail lights. Pay particular attention to cleaning off headlights and taillights so other motorists can see you.

Turn on your headlights. Even if it is not snowing, please use your headlights at all times. If cars have auto lamps, ensure they are working property.

• Adjust your speed to the conditions and increase following distances. Remember that bridges and overpasses can be more slippery than other parts of the road. If you begin to skid, remain calm and ease your foot off the gas and turn the wheel in the direction you want the car to go. If you have an anti-lock braking system (ABS), apply a steady firm pressure to the brake pedal. Never pump ABS brakes.

• If even after following all precautions you find yourself stranded, stay calm and stay put. Your chances of being rescued are greater if you remain in one place. Staying in your car will decrease your risk of frostbite or hypothermia. Run your engine for heat about once an hour (every half hour in extreme cold).

Make sure your exhaust pipe is clear to prevent the back up of carbon monoxide. Leave one window slightly open. Tie a piece of brightly colored cloth to your antenna to alert others and aid rescuers.

• Carry a cell phone for use during emergencies. Because driving requires your full attention, be sure to find a safe place to pull over when you need to make a call. A cell phone is a valuable tool for drivers who witness, or are involved in, emergency situations.

Cell phone users on the road must provide dispatchers with specific information about the emergency. Cellular 911 calls are routed to public safety answering points operated by state or local agencies. Although newer cell phones now provide approximate location or have GPS and callback numbers when 911 is dialed, an exact location may need to be provided by the caller. Always be aware and have a general idea where you are.

Please follow these simple tips and precautions to ensure your safety as well as other motorists’ safety. The entire staff from the Cass County Sheriff’s Office would like to wish everyone a very happy holiday season and best wishes in the new year.

If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, please feel free to contact me any time at or 218-547-1424 or 800-450-2677.