2013-02-08 / In the Know

Consider these safe winter driving tips

B. Michael Thurlow Special contributor

With our recent rash of cold weather and icy conditions, I thought it might be a good time to write an article about safe winter driving.

Each time we get a storm the police, fire and EMS crews are called to respond to a number of traffic incidents including crashes and single-vehicle incidents where a driver has lost control and many times gone off the road. The simple truth is, the vast majority of these are caused by human error and speed.

Winter driving can be hazardous and scary, but following the three P’s of safe winter driving can help:

Prepare for the trip; protect yourself; and prevent crashes on the road.

The preparation piece comes in many forms starting with maintenance of your vehicle. Check the condition of your battery, tire tread, windshield wipers and make sure your windows are completely clear of snow, ice and frost.

Make sure you keep emergency supplies and materials in your car like a flashlight, jumper cables, abrasive material (like cat litter or sand), a shovel, snowbrush, ice scraper, blankets and warning devices like flares, cones, or triangles. Plan your route and make sure to allow plenty of time for the traveling conditions.

If you leave early there is no pressure to drive faster than is prudent to get where you’re going.

The second P is for protecting yourself. This includes using your seatbelt religiously. It also includes using child safety seats properly and never placing a rearfacing infant seat in front of an air bag. Remember, children under 12 are much safer in the back seat. Protecting yourself may also include roadside assistance protection like AAA, similar coverage from your automobile insurance company, or auto clubs provide. This can be a great piece of mind when something unexpected happens.

The final P stands for prevent crashes and this is where you can do your part to proactively eliminate most of the causes and consequences of an accident.

The biggest one is slow down and increase the distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you. Today’s modern cars and trucks with all-wheel and four-wheel drive give drivers a false sense of security. Their traction control systems make it easy to move and gain speed even in unsafe conditions. The problem is once you get the vehicle going they are much harder to stop. Even with modern day anti-lock brakes and collision avoidance systems it takes time and distance to stop when conditions are poor. Slowing down and leaving sufficient space to gradually slow your vehicle is the single most effective way of avoiding an accident.

Naturally, avoiding fatigue and the use of drugs and alcohol goes without saying. If you’re planning to drink, designate a sober driver. Distracted driving has also become a huge issue now that nearly everyone has a cell phone, GPS or other electronic device that is competing for your attention. Never use any of those devices when driving, particularly when the weather conditions are poor.

Being involved in a motor vehicle crash isn’t fun. It is often expensive and can cause significant physical injuries. By practicing the three P’s of winter driving you will reduce your chance of having a crash and be better prepared if you do.

If you have any questions about this article or any fire department issue you may contact me at mthurl@ ci.scarborough.me.us or call 730-4201. B. Michael Thurlow is fire chief for Scarborough.

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