Motorists urged to use caution

Hwy. 40 and Hwy. 13 notorious for winter accidents

Gordon Shelley has worked as a tow truck driver for Cook Chevrolet for 14 years, and he can think of a few places in Moffat County where motorists ought to drive with caution.

Indeed, he can rattle off a long list of land marks and mile markers he's often looking at while towing a driver out of a ditch.

"On North 13 towards Baggs, just past the mountain along mile markers 100 to 115, it gets bad," Shelley said. "South down around Hamilton, in the curves and hills, it's bad. At mile marker 67 (on Highway 13) just before the canyon, there're always bad accidents. Some folks have died there.

"There's trouble on Highway 40 around the county line. Where it's hilly west of Maybell, around mile marker 50, I see folks there."

Richard Oberwitte of Arrowhead Auto and Equipment Repair said he receives more calls to tow vehicles on Highway 13, especially south toward Rifle, than on Highway 40, because 13 has more curves.

"People drive too fast for the corners," Oberwitte explained.

But Roy Holland of Round Bottom Auto Wrecking summed up the winter towing business succinctly.

"We pick them up all over the county," he said.

Sometimes, drivers find themselves sitting in a ditch when most of the road appeared to be clear. That's because shady sections of highway remain iced over after other parts have thawed, Holland explained.

"Respect slick roads," Shelley said. "You hit a wind pocket or slick spot on a hill or curve and you're going off the road."

While pointing out different small things drivers can do to stay on the roads this winter, the tow truck drivers voiced one important piece of advice: Slow down.

Captain Gary Torgerson of the Colorado State Patrol said there were quite a few accidents following this weekend's heavy snowfall. Most of those accidents involved drivers going too fast for icy conditions.

While different speeds are appropriate in different conditions, Torgerson estimated that 30 to 35 mph would be appropriate on most highways, and that no driver should be driving faster than 50 mph.

"They (drivers) need to know they're in control," Torgerson said. "If they lose control, then they were going too fast for conditions, and they will be cited."

"If you feel your car slipping, back off the gas," Torgerson said.

Under normal conditions, Torgerson recommends drivers follow the two-second spacing rule. That means two seconds elapse between the time a lead car and a car following it pass the same landmark. Usually the distance between the vehicles is four car lengths.

But on icy roads, Torgerson said drivers should double or triple the two-second rule. So if a car is traveling 40 mph, it should be no less than eight to 12 car lengths behind the car it is following.

Oberwitte said all drivers would fare better this winter if they have good snow tires on their cars.

He added that lowering tire pressure a few pounds will also help.

Holland said that antilock brakes are very helpful on slick roads, because disc brakes often send cars into a skid.

"Stay off the brakes," Holland said about disc brakes. "Just give them a tap and get off them, because the tires will lock up. Touch the brakes and the party is over."

The tow truck drivers noted that many drivers believe four-wheel drive will keep them safe on icy roads. That belief is false.

"You don't have as much trouble with front wheel drive as with four-wheel drive," Holland said. "With four-wheel drive, they think they can drive 75 miles per hour."

Often, four-wheel drive puts drivers at greater risk, because four tires are pulling instead of two. So, when a car loses traction, it is pulled in two different directions instead of just one.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.