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WINTER DRIVING SAFETY TIPS
Deputy Chris Johnston, Spokane County Sheriff’s Office
Spokane Valley Police Department
Winter time is upon us, which brings with it the challenges of driving in inclement weather conditions. Many of these challenges are obvious, while many others don’t become apparent until it’s too late, leaving us stranded, stuck, unprepared, or worse: in a collision.
As an Emergency Vehicle Operations Course instructor for the Sheriff’s Office, I have been exposed to just about every type of “mishap” that can occur related to the driving task. Most people don’t realize that, from a statistics standpoint, operating a motor vehicle is one of the most dangerous activities that Americans do every day. The sobering fact is, over 30,000 people per year (on average) lose their lives in traffic collisions, and that’s just in the U.S. alone.
So, let’s discuss some strategies that everyone can use to help prevent putting ourselves in unnecessary danger. Keep in mind that, while some extra care and caution in the winter months is good, many of the following tips are useful all year!
Take care of your vehicle!
Vehicles that are not properly cared for put us at increased risk for trouble. Tires should be checked at least monthly for proper treadwear and inflation pressure. Not only will this give your car the best grip possible, but tires will last longer and fuel economy will be maximized. Don’t forget to check the spare, too! Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations found in your vehicle owner’s manual.
Before it gets too cold, check the condition of your vehicles battery/charging system, as well as the cooling system. A large portion of cold weather failures can be directly attributed to these systems, and a qualified service technician can check them very quickly. This is also a great time to check those wiper blades, and all of your lighting equipment. Being able to see is a very, very good thing when that dirty rain and snow stick to the windshield.
OK folks, this one should be elementary, but law enforcement personnel continuously respond to collisions where speed was a contributing factor. Get in the habit of leaving the house just a few minutes earlier during those winter months. You will be AMAZED at how much less stressed you will be when arriving to work or school, simply because you didn’t have to hurry in order to avoid being late. Using this system, I usually arrive a few minutes early to wherever I’m going. Not only do I get a better parking spot this way, I use those few minutes to return phone calls or texts that I received while I was driving. Everybody wins! It’s also helpful to check the weather forecast for your projected commute time the day before, so you can determine just how much extra time might be needed.
On the road…
We know our vehicle is ready to go, and we have given ourselves some extra time for the drive. Nothing left to do now, except… the most dangerous part. Once in motion, pay full attention to the driving task. Put down the electronic device, and ignore it if it makes noise. It will still be there when you arrive SAFELY at your destination.
Obey the rules of the road, as set forth in title 46.61 of the Revised Code of Washington. Just about every person that I have ever stopped for a traffic violation has told me, “I didn’t know I couldn’t do that”, or “I wasn’t paying attention”. Folks, these are laws, not suggestions, and they’re in place for a very good reason: SAFETY! Your vehicle is equipped with blinkers, and you need to activate them at least 100 feet prior to any turn or lane change. People failing to signal properly is the cause of many collisions that I myself have investigated over the years. Do it all the time, even if you don’t see other vehicles, and it will become a very safe habit. Letting others know your intentions is a great way to avoid having them block your path.
I’ve already mentioned speed, but it’s worth revisiting because it’s also very often a contributing factor to collisions involving injury. I’m about to tell you how to go the rest of your life without a speeding ticket. Ready? Here goes… watch for speed limit signs, and obey them. It’s really that simple! As the operator of a vehicle, it’s up to YOU to know what the posted speed limit is, at all times. Again, the numbers on those signs are not suggestions. They are the maximum speed allowed by law for that particular roadway! I have had the unfortunate task of responding to many collisions involving serious injuries and fatalities, and I can tell you how unsettling it is to experience. Also, it’s up to you to adjust your speed for conditions. You might be traveling on a road with a posted speed limit of 45 MPH, but if it’s icy, and dark, and there’s other traffic, it’s prudent to lower your speed so that you can safely maintain control of your vehicle.
Give yourself some space, and don’t “tailgate” or follow other vehicles too closely. A good rule of thumb is one car length for every ten miles per hour of speed. Which means, if you’re on the interstate doing 70 MPH and you’re only two car lengths behind the vehicle in front of you, YOU’RE TOO CLOSE. Again, the cause of many collisions. Also, when stopping in traffic, bring your vehicle to rest where you can still see the tires on the car in front of you. Two benefits here: first, if your vehicle is struck from behind, it reduces the chance that it will get pushed into the car in front of you. Second, that amount of space is usually enough to make an evasive maneuver if necessary, leaving you an “out” if you need to turn around.
Listening to music through headphones, driving with your dog on your lap, smoking or vaping, applying makeup/grooming, reading a book, eating a bowl of cereal (using both hands), dangling an arm or leg out an open window, dancing… these are just some of the things I’ve seen people do while driving a car on a public roadway. This type of behavior is incredibly dangerous, regardless of the time of year or weather conditions! Yes, you could also be cited for these activities, so if you do any of these things, keep that in mind. More importantly, ask yourself if any of these activities are worth the safety or well-being of yourself or other people.
Be safe, everyone!