Police: Stay safe on winter roads

Published 9:40 am Wednesday, December 9, 2009

As the first major snowstorm hits Minnesota, officials with the Minnesota Departments of Public Safety and Transportation are urging motorists to adapt their driving skills to winter road conditions, to buckle up and to be patient and attentive behind the wheel.

Officers reported there were more than 45,000 crashes in 2006-08 across the state where there were snowy or icy road conditions. Those crashes resulted in 168 traffic deaths and 14,540 injuries, according to a news release.

To avoid this, officials are asking that motorists drive at safe speeds according to road conditions and keep a safe stopping distance between automobiles. Motorists should also use extra precautions when driving around snowplows by keeping at least five car-lengths between their vehicles and plows, the release states.

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Drivers should look out for slippery bridges and overpasses and remember that if their vehicle starts to skid they should remain calm, east their foot off the gas and turn the steering wheel in the direction they want to go.

“Slow down, take your time and don’t go anywhere if you don’t have to,” said Albert Lea Police Chief Dwaine Winkels.

Winkels said the National Weather Service is predicting this week’s storm to continue into today and Thursday. If people have plans, they should consider whether they need to reschedule them.

Always use seat belts.

Adjust speed to road and weather conditions.

Keep a safe stopping distance between vehicles.

Accelerate and decelerate slowly on icy/snow-covered roads to retrain traction and avoid skids.

Do not use cruise-control.

Do not “power up” hills, which may cause wheels to spin. Build momentum before reaching a hill and don’t stop while traveling uphill. Reduce speed going downhill.

Know your brakes — keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of the foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.

Give yourself plenty of travel time. Don’t put your schedule before safety.

Clear snow and ice from vehicle windows, hood, headlights, brake lights and directional signs.

Headlights must be turned on when it is snowing or sleeting.

He also encouraged people to make sure they have their winter survival gear in their automobile — including a blanket or extra clothing — in case they slide into a ditch or get stuck in whiteout conditions.

MnDOT also encourages people to have a scraper or brush, a small shovel, jumper cables, a town chain, a bag of sand or cat litter for tire traction, heavy boots, warm clothing and flashlights. They should also consider storing high-energy foods such as chocolate or energy bars.

If people get stranded, they should stay calm and stay in the vehicle to decrease the risk of frostbite or hypothermia and to increase the chances of being rescued.

They should run the vehicle’s engine for heat about once an hour, or every half hour in extreme cold. Make sure the exhaust pipe is clear to prevent carbon monoxide from getting into the vehicle, the release states.

People should also leave one window slightly open and tie a piece of brightly colored cloth to their antenna to alert rescuers.

Lastly, MnDOT recommended people limit their sleep to short naps and to always take a charged cell phone on trips.

For weather-related road condition information call 511 or visit www.511mn.org.