Get Smart about winter driving

by DGO Web Administrator

It’s getting nasty out there, folks. Whether you’re headed to the mountain, to work, or to class, let Lisa Schwantes, Colorado Department of Transportation Region 5 communications manager tell you how to keep your ass (and your car, and your friends) safe out there as the snow piles up.

What are some tips to get us around town and up to the mountain. Help!Winter driving is tricky, especially in mountainous regions. Driving conditions vary from the lower elevations to the higher passes. We advise motorists to be aware of the weather, first and foremost. Our maintenance patrols are constantly monitoring the weather so that we can treat the roads if necessary, and of course, plow the roads when necessary. Sometimes the roads are sprayed with a deicer or an anti-icer which help to prevent ice from forming. If we can time it correctly, we can pre-treat the road so that ice will not form. However, once the snow starts falling, we’ll treat the road with a sand and salt mix, plowing at the same time. Cars that are following the plow often have better traction, but we strongly advise drivers not to crowd the plows. Give the plows room to work. Stay back at least three to four car lengths. As they plow, there is snow and other debris flying around and you don’t want your car to be hit with it. We also encourage drivers not to pass plows, especially on the right-hand side. It may sound pretty logical, but sometimes the plows need to work toward the center of the road and the plow extends to the right. Motorists might feel they have room to pass on the right, but we’ve had increasing numbers of crashes occur since the snow started flying.

It’s illegal to pass on the right hand side anyway, isn’t it?Yes, it is! But folks get a little impatient. But it’s more important to get someplace safely and a few minutes late than never getting there at all.

Are there speeds you advise when the weather gets bad?Drivers ought to pay attention to the condition of the road. So much of it is common sense. If the roads are snow-packed and icy, keep your speed down. It’s better to drive at a slower speed and to maintain control of your vehicle versus picking up speed and losing control.

What’s a safe distance between vehicles?It’s always a best practice, regardless of the weather, to keep a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front of you, but especially when it’s snowing. Keep an even further distance in poor conditions than you would in good ones. If a vehicle needs to slam on their brakes for whatever reason, you need that extra time to respond.

You’re a local. What are some strategies you employ to stay safe out there?I’ve lived in Durango since 1987. When I taught my two sons, my biggest piece of advice to them for winter driving was not to worry about the other vehicles around. Drivers need to travel at a speed that they are comfortable with. Don’t worry about the cars pushing around behind you. If you need to go slow, go slow. If I’m driving and I see someone going faster than I am who’s coming up behind me, I’ll tap my brake a few times to send the warning signal that I’m going to be going slow. It’s a pretty clear sign to back off. Not hard, just a slight pump – don’t want to start sliding! Oh! Give yourself some extra time, too! Plan ahead. But if you can’t, better to be late than never get there at all.

Cyle Talley follows his dad’s sage advice on snowy roads: “Don’t do anything too suddenly.” If there’s something you’d like to GET SMART about, email him at: [email protected]

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