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Agencies provide winter driving safety tips

By Patricia Demchak Billinger
Special to The SUN

In an effort to create a unified voice regarding winter safety tips, AAA, the American Red Cross, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), and the Colorado State Patrol (CSP) collaborated last year to incorporate each agency’s expertise into a comprehensive list of advice for motorists.

The agencies recommend the following advice for motorists:

1. Compile a winter safety kit. Winter safety kits help keep motorists prepared in the event that their vehicle becomes disabled, they are caught in traffic for extended amounts of time, or they are stranded. The items suggested below can be purchased at most grocery and superstores for around $50. Together, AAA, ARC, CDOT, and CSP recommend that winter driving kits include:

• Flares/reflectors to signal for help and warn other motorists.

• Sturdy scraper/snow brush/snow shovel to clear snow.

• Battery or crank-powered radio to listen to emergency broadcasts.

• Flashlight with extra batteries or crank-powered flashlight.

• Survival blanket or sleeping bag.

• Chemical hand warmers.

• Extra set of clothes, including coat, hat, mittens, boots, etc.

• Gallon jug of water and nonperishable food.

• First Aid kit and essential medications.

• Tire chains and tow strap.

• Non-clumping kitty litter/sand for traction.

• Jumper cables.

• Extra cloth or paper towels for cleanup if necessary.

• Deck of cards or board game for entertainment.

2. Make pre-trip preparations. When considering driving during severe winter weather conditions, motorists are encouraged to weigh the urgency of trips. In the event trips cannot be postponed and must occur during winter conditions, it is critical to perform pre-trip vehicle and personal checks, and abide by safety guidelines during your trip.

 What to do pre-trip

Vehicle check:

• Check charge on vehicle’s battery before long trips.

• Check your vehicle’s brakes.

• Check your vehicle’s head lights, brake lights, turn indicators, and emergency flashers.

• Ensure gas tank is full, and keep it above half-full during the trip.

• Check that tires have good tread and are properly inflated.

• Ensure that your windshield wiper fluid and other fluid reservoirs are full.

• Ensure that your windshield wiper blades are in good condition.

• Ensure that your winter driving kit is prepared and in your vehicle.

• Make sure your cell phone is fully charged (charging from car battery could deplete car battery charge).

• Remember not to leave your car running while it is unattended.

Family safety check:

• Review your route and current driving conditions on cotrip.org or call 511 before your departure.

• Note the locations of varying services like fueling stations, food, and lodging.

• Be aware that changes in elevation and the time of the day can affect and even change weather and driving conditions, so make sure to dress appropriately.

• Be aware that driving times may change as your trip progresses depending on weather and traffic conditions.

• Leave yourself plenty of time to arrive at your destination and be well-rested for your drive.

During trips

• Make sure driver and passengers have fastened their seatbelts before departure.

• Don’t use cruise control when traveling in winter conditions

• Slow down! Speed limits are posted for optimum driving conditions, but during winter weather conditions, speeds should be reduced.

• Extend following distances, do not expect 4WD to help you stop any faster.

• Give snow plows plenty of room and never pass on the right.

• Maintain your lane while driving except to pass and drive as smoothly as possible.

• Maintain awareness of where you are.

• Avoid cell phone use while driving and remember that texting while driving is against the law.

• Be prepared that certain parts of roadways may be icier than others (including on- and off-ramps, bridges, overpasses, curves, etc.).

• Remember that commercial trucks are difficult to operate during winter conditions, and allow plenty of following distance. Larger vehicles have difficulty seeing smaller vehicles.

Breakdowns or stranded

• Move your vehicle as far off the roadway as possible.

• Turn on your emergency flashers and ensure your lights are clear of ice and snow.

• If it is necessary to exit the vehicle, use the side farthest from the traffic lane and make sure there is plenty of room between you and the vehicle (in case it is struck by another vehicle).

• Determine your location as accurately as you can.

• Turn on your crank or battery radio to gather as much information from reliable sources as you can about current conditions of the storm and to hear the advice of safety officials.

• Stay with your vehicle at all times and never abandon your vehicle. Plows, police and emergency responders will patrol through the storm to look for stranded motorists.

• When in your vehicle, keep your seatbelt fastened.

• Make a plan to conserve your fuel and battery supplies. Reduce consumption of both where possible.

• Cycle your engine and your heater so it is not constantly running, to conserve fuel.

• Do not use appliances (lights, radio, DVD players, etc.) without the engine running to avoid draining the battery.

• Make sure to stay hydrated. You can go a long time without food, but your body needs water every few hours, even when you are cold.

• If possible, call 911 or a roadside assistance provider for rescue.

For more information about winter driving in Colorado, visit http://www.coloradodot.info/travel/winter-driving. To receive real-time updates about road conditions in your area, visit www.coloradodot.info/ and click on the green cell phone icon in the upper right hand corner of the page.

This story was posted on December 20, 2012.