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Cass Co. Sheriff's Corner: Advice for the start of winter driving season

Tom Burch

With winter conditions starting somewhat earlier than normal, we want to take the opportunity to remind readers to brush up on winter driving skills and techniques. We would also like to share a few things to be aware of as we venture into the winter driving season. We have covered these topics in the past, but it is very important for all drivers, especially new and young drivers, to be aware of these things.

I would like to focus this article specifically on the topic of winter driving. Everyone should be cautious about traveling in extreme winter weather. Cold, snow and ice are demanding on cars, drivers and passengers. Most importantly, extreme winter weather can threaten your life. Usually, it takes the first couple of snow events for everyone to brush up on their winter driving skills, but being prepared for and knowing how to handle weather events can ensure your and everyone's safety on the roadway.

Be Able to See and Be Seen

Clean frost and snow off all windows, mirrors, lights and reflectors. Equip your car with good wiper blades and keep an ample supply of windshield washer fluid. If visibility is poor, use headlamps. It's amazing how many vehicles we observe with very poor visibility out of the vehicle's windshield and other windows. Take the time to properly warm up the vehicle and melting snow and ice off the windows. Take the time to clear snow from headlights, as well as taillights and around the corners of the vehicle.

Get a Feel for the Road

When you first start out, accelerate carefully to test wheel-spin and brake gently to test skidding.

Be Gentle

Use the accelerator and brakes slowly to maintain control of your vehicle. Fast acceleration can make wheels spin on ice and snow. Brake with a gentle pumping action. Stepping too hard on the pedal will lock the brakes and cause loss of steering control.

Increase Your Following Distance

Ice or snow can multiply your stopping distance up to 10 times.

Make Turns Slowly and Gradually

Heavily traveled intersections can become "polished" and slick. Brake before you come to a curve, not while you are in it.

Turn in the Direction of the Skid

If the rear of your car begins to slide, turn into the direction of the skid. Expect a second skid as the car straightens out, and be prepared to counter this sliding action.

Scattered Slippery Spots

Icy spots on the road surface can cause loss of steering control. Do not use your brake. Take your foot off the gas and steer as straight as possible until your car slows to a safe speed.

Avoiding a Collision

In an emergency situation, you can intentionally steer your car off the road and into a snowbank. You may get stuck, but you'll avoid a crash.

While travelling during winter conditions, it's crucial to be aware of snowplows. Snowplows travel much slower than the posted speeds because it is most effective for clearing roads. The driver's field of vision is severely restricted behind the truck, and the driver must rely on mirrors to see to the rear and side of the truck. Remember to:

• Be patient and remember snowplows are working to improve road conditions for your trip.

• Stay back at least 10 car lengths between your vehicle and a plow.

• Stay alert for snowplows that turn or exit frequently and often with little warning. They also may travel over centerlines or partially in traffic to further improve road conditions.

• Slow down to a safe speed for current conditions. Snowplows typically move at slower speeds.

Remember, we're in the storm together. Be patient with the snowplows and drive according to road conditions. Heavy traffic congestion affects snowplowing operations—if you're stuck in traffic, so are the snowplows. Take your time and allow a few extra minutes in your travel schedule for conditions that can change quickly even over a small area of travel.

If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, please feel free to contact me anytime using one of the following methods: email at; by phone at 218-547-1424 or 800-450-2677; or by mail or in person

at the Cass County Sheriff's Office, 303 Minnesota Ave. W, P.O. Box 1119, Walker, MN, 56484.