Moffat County authorities offer tips for safe winter driving

Items needed for a winter driving survival kit:

• Food and water

• Blankets

• Flashlight

• Bag of abrasive material (sand, salt or cat litter)

• Small snow shovel and snow brush

• Traction mats

• Windshield washer fluid

• Gloves

• Ice scraper

• Paper towels

• Booster cables, warning flares or triangles

• Cell phone.

— Source: AAA of Colorado

Jerry DeLong, Craig Police Department commander, said vehicle crashes within city limits are down this month.

According to police data, officers responded to 13 reported vehicle crashes between Nov. 1 and 23, as opposed to 20 during the same timeframe a year ago.

However, with today’s forecast calling for a mixture of rain and snow, which could result in icy roads as temperatures drop below freezing early in the evening, DeLong said it’s never a bad time for motorists to brush up on winter driving skills.

“The number one most common mistake motorists make is driving too fast for the conditions,” DeLong said. “Accidents are easily avoidable if people simply slow down.”

Trooper Nate Reid, public information officer with the Colorado State Patrol in Denver, said unlike the downward trend in Craig, car crashes are up this month in Moffat County.

According to state records, troopers have responded to 29 crashes so far in November.

Between Nov. 1 and 23 last year, the state patrol responded to 26 crashes.

“Distractions are a big problem under ideal driving conditions and are only exaggerated when it’s snowy,” Reid said. “Cell phones, eating, tuning the radio, kids in the back seat or even a rolled over car in a ditch can take our minds and our eyes off the road.

“However fast you’re driving, you’re covering that distance regardless of whether you are paying attention or not.”

Reid said there are three simple rules to follow to avoid wintertime collisions.

“If you don’t have to travel when the weather is bad, then stay home,” Reid said.

“However, if you do have to travel give yourself plenty of time so you’re not rushing, leave plenty of room between cars and eliminate all distractions if possible.”

Given this is a holiday and one of the busiest travel weekends on the calendar, DeLong said it’s also not a bad idea for motorists traveling long distances to stash a few supplies in the trunk in case of emergency.

“All people really need are the basic necessities,” DeLong said. “Food, water, blankets and a flashlight will get you by until help arrives.”

AAA of Colorado recommends adding a few other items to your winter driving kit, including a bag of sand, salt or cat litter, a small snow shovel, snowbrush, traction mats, windshield washer fluid, gloves, ice scraper, paper towels, booster cables, warning flares or triangles, and a cell phone.

But, the best way to avoid an emergency situation is to educate yourself on proper winter driving techniques.

According to AAA, the best way to avoid a collision is by increasing following distances. The three-second rule applied to driving on dry pavement should be increased to eight to 10 seconds when roads are wet, snowy or icy. The increased margin provides drivers with the extra distance required to stop in adverse conditions.

When stopping in winter weather, it’s not uncommon for brakes to lock up causing vehicles to slide.

To avoid losing control, motorists without an anti-lock braking system should practice “threshold” braking, which is done properly by setting the heel on the floor and applying steady pressure on the brake pedal with the ball of your foot.

AAA also reports that it’s vital to keep your heel on the floor to control pressure with your ankle. If your heel comes off the floor, your thigh muscles will take over, which could result in the brakes locking from too much pressure and prolonging a skid.

Motorists with anti-lock braking systems have less to think about and only need to keep firm pressure on the brake pedal when sliding on wet, snowy or icy surfaces.

Because of the nature of anti-lock braking system technology, the brake pedal will vibrate and pulse against your foot, which is normal. Maintain pressure and never pump your brakes with an anti-lock braking system.

Should a vehicle start to skid while driving, it’s important to never slam the brakes. Although hitting the brakes is a normal reaction, slamming them will further upset the vehicle’s balance and make it difficult to regain control.

Instead, motorists should ease off the accelerator, look in the direction of desired travel, steer the wheel in that direction and wait for tires to regain traction.

As soon as tires are engaged with the road, gently ease the vehicle back in the desired direction of travel.

Additional tips from AAA are:

• Before winter arrives, prepare your vehicle for use on ice and snow.

• Avoid driving while fatigued.

• Use your safety belt every time you get in a vehicle.

• Never warm up your vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage.

• Never leave your vehicle unattended with the engine running.

• Make sure your tires are properly inflated.

• Keep the gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freezes.

• If possible, avoid using your parking brake in cold, rainy and snowy weather.

• Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface.

• Always look and steer where you want to go.

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