By Melissa Stagnaro
Chenango Traffic Safety Board
CHENANGO COUNTY – So here we are, in the midst of one of the worst winters in recent years. And Punxsutawney Phil just saw his shadow. Of course, any Central New Yorker worth their salt knows we’ll be lucky to have only six more weeks of winter. But with one major storm after another hitting our area, it seems like the perfect time for a few reminders about how to handle those snow-covered roads.
Tip #1: Clean off your car
Sounds like a no brainer, right? Except how many times do you see people driving with their windshield only partially cleared, and piles of snow on the roof. The fact of the matter is, it’s not just your visibility that’s at stake – although, that’s pretty important.
“They just don’t think of how much it’s a hazard to other people,” explained New York State Police Sergeant (Ret.) Elizabeth Wonka, who sits on Chenango County’s Traffic Safety Board.
According to Wonka, during her more than 30 years with the state police she saw multiple accidents – including one fatality – where snow (and in the case of the fatality, ice) left uncleared from a vehicle was a contributing factor.
So, for your sake as well as others on the road, take the extra time to thoroughly clear the snow and ice from not only your windshield, but the rest of your car as well.
Tip #2: Give our Highway crews the credit they deserve (and the space they need to do their jobs)
Every time a major city is crippled by a couple of measly inches of snow, Central New Yorkers chuckle to themselves. (No offense, Atlanta!) But what we should be doing is thanking our highway crews. Because without those state, county and local crews, we’d be in the same boat.
Here’s a few things you should know about snow plows, and the people who drive them.
- There’s a reason they go slow. (And no, it’s not to make you late for work.)
According to retired Chenango County Highway Superintendent Randy Gibbon, who chairs the Chenango TSB, a plow should be traveling under 30 mph when applying sand or salt.
“That speed allows the material being applied to stay on the roadway and do its intended duty, bare the road surface and provide friction,” he explained.
- When you see a plow, pay attention and be prepared – even if it’s stopped.
“If a snowplow is pulled over at an intersection, it is probably trying to clear the snow or ice from that intersection,” said Gibbon. So be prepared for it to back up. Look for the driver’s signal regarding what you should do, and be prepared to stop if necessary.
- Give them some space.
That snowplow driver is doing his best to make the road safer for all drivers. But he (or she) needs space to do their job.
“When you have a snowplow approaching on the other side of the roadway please slow down and safely pull over towards the right,” recommended Gibbons.
And let’s remember, they’re braving the same weather conditions as we are. (Actually worse, since they don’t have crews out there clearing the roads for them.)
Tip #3: Expect the unexpected
Winter driving is all about changing conditions. Drifting snow, snow squalls, black ice… all are things we need to be on the look out for, especially as the wind kicks up and temperatures start to drop. These hazardous conditions can easily take drivers by surprise, Wonka said, as they can exist even when roads are otherwise clear.
The best defense? A good offense, according to Wonka. Always be aware of the conditions around you and be prepared to adjust to them.
Tip #4: Slow Down
According to Wonka, if she were to give drivers only one piece of advice, it would be this: slow down.
“Many accidents are caused by people driving too fast for conditions,” she explained.
That doesn’t mean that the drivers in question were exceeding the speed limit, but rather they weren’t taking into account the fact that vehicles respond differently when the road surface is slippery or snow covered. Especially when you apply the brakes.
Take stopping distance, for example. It takes longer – both in distance and time – for your car to come to a stop. Therefore, you need to take your foot off the gas and start applying the break sooner than you would if the roads were clear and dry.
“Hard stops are more dangerous,” Wonka said, so you should avoid sudden breaking, and allow more space between you and the car in front of you.
Tip #5: Be prepared
Going on a trip or planning to drive in a storm? Wonka recommends keeping an emergency kit in your car. Food, water and a flashlight are some basics you should have with you, but you also want to think about staying warm.
“Dress warmly,” she said, or have an extra layer with you. And don’t forget a hat, gloves and boots in case you have to walk for help.
A full tank of gas is also a good idea, she added, both to avoid getting stranded and so that you can run the heater as needed.
And, one last tip…
Tip #6: Stay home
If you’re not comfortable driving in particular conditions, don’t.
“People find it embarrassing, but it shouldn’t be,” said Wonka. “It’s ok to stay home if you’re not comfortable driving.”
Looking for additional winter driving tips? Visit these helpful websites.
National Highway Traffic Safety Association
New York State Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee
AAA Winter Driving Tips