Sheriff's Corner: Drive with caution in winter weather

As our beautiful fall weather comes to a close, we are reminded quickly of what happens next--winter. It is hard to believe that we will still have winter weather to deal with after the weeks of fall days that we have enjoyed.

As our beautiful fall weather comes to a close, we are reminded quickly of what happens next-winter. It is hard to believe that we will still have winter weather to deal with after the weeks of fall days that we have enjoyed.

To help Minnesota residents minimize the risks of winter, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, in collaboration with the National Weather Service and other state, federal, and non-profit agencies, sponsors Winter Hazard Awareness Week each fall.

The event, held Nov. 14-18, included a media campaign, website promotion and social media posts. The week-long effort provides specific information each day that can be used in conjunction with school, church, or civic programs.

Each day focuses on a specific topic-winter storms, outdoor winter safety, winter fire safety, indoor winter safety and winter driving.

I would like to focus this article especially on the topic of winter driving. Everyone should be cautious about traveling in extreme winter weather. Cold, snow and ice are demanding on cars, drivers and passengers. Most importantly, extreme winter weather can threaten your life. Usually it takes the first couple of snow events for everyone to brush up on their winter driving skills, but being prepared for and knowing how to handle weather events can ensure your safety on the roadway.


• Be able to see and be seen. Clean frost and snow off all windows, mirrors, lights and reflectors. Equip your car with good wiper blades and keep an ample supply of windshield washer fluid. If visibility is poor, use headlamps.

• Get a feel for the road. When you first start out, accelerate carefully to test wheel-spin and brake gently to test skidding.

• Be gentle. Use the accelerator and brakes slowly to maintain control of your vehicle. Fast acceleration can make wheels spin on ice and snow. Brake with a gentle pumping action. Stepping too hard on the pedal will lock the brakes and cause loss of steering control.

• Increase your following distance. Ice or snow can multiply your stopping distance up

to 10 times.

• Make turns slowly and gradually. Heavily traveled intersections can become "polished" and slick. Brake before you come to a curve, not while you are in it.

• Turn in the direction of the skid. If the rear of your car begins to slide, turn into the direction of the skid. Expect a second skid as the car straightens out and be prepared to counter this sliding action.

• Scattered slippery spots. Icy spots on the road surface can cause loss of steering control. Do not use your brake. Take your foot off the gas and steer as straight as possible until your car slows to a safe speed.


• Avoiding a collision. In an emergency situation, you can intentionally steer your car off the road and into a snowbank. You may get stuck, but you'll avoid a crash.

Winter Survival Kits for Your Vehicle

Each year, hundreds of Minnesotans find themselves stranded on the roadside. Winter weather can kill in mere minutes an unprepared person exposed to the elements. Use an empty 3-pound coffee can or any similar container with a plastic cover to store the following items: Small candles and matches, small sharp knife and plastic spoons, red bandana or cloth, pencil and paper, large plastic garbage bag, safety pins, whistle, snacks, cellphone adapter to plug into lighter, plastic flashlight and spare batteries. Other items to include: Snacks, mini candy bars, chewing gum, food bars, booster cables, basic tools, shovel, road flares or reflectors, tow chains or cables. A cellphone is a valuable tool for drivers who witness, or are involved in, emergency situations. Cellphone users on the road must provide dispatchers with specific information about the emergency. In the event that you are stranded, stay in your car. Walking in a storm can be very dangerous. You might lose your way or become exhausted, collapse and risk your life. Your vehicle is a good shelter.

Cellular 911 calls are routed to public safety answering points operated by state or local agencies. Although newer cellphones now provide approximate location or have GPS and callback numbers when 911 is dialed, an exact location may need to be provided by the caller. It is always a good reminder to have a general idea of where you are or landmarks that you can see and recognize to assist in helping locate you.

The 511 Phone Information System provides road safety information 24 hours per day. Landline and cellphone users can call 511 for regional and statewide reports on traffic congestion, road and weather conditions, construction work and other obstacles.

The MnDOT website at features a high-speed Internet/Google map site with real-time updates.

Another important aspect of winter driving is snowplow safety. This is especially important for new drivers who may not have experienced winter driving before. The Minnesota Department of Transportation's snowplow operators are trained, experienced and prepared to assist motorists through another winter season. Last year in Minnesota, there were 72 crashes involving vehicles that hit snowplows. This is typically caused by inattentive drivers, motorists driving too close to the plow or motorists driving too fast for conditions.

Operators have much to monitor and control, and their ability to see behind them is limited by side mirrors. Their vision can also be hampered by the snow clouds they create while plowing.


Safe driving means:

• Check road conditions at or call 511; it takes time to get roads back to good driving conditions.

• Be patient and remember snowplows are working to improve road conditions for your trip.

• Stay back at least five car lengths behind the plow, far from the snow cloud. Snowplow operators will pull over when it is safe to do so to allow traffic build-up to pass.

• Stay alert for snowplows that turn or exit frequently and often with little warning. They may also travel over centerlines or partially in traffic to further improve road conditions.

• Slow down to a safe speed for current conditions, and give yourself plenty of travel time. Snowplows typically move at slower speeds.

• Buckle up and ensure children are properly secured in the correct child restraint.

• Avoid unnecessary travel if road conditions are too poor.

If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, please feel free to contact me anytime using one of the following methods: email at ; by phone at 218-547-1424 or 800-450-2677; by mail or in person at Cass County Sheriff's Office, 303 Minnesota Ave. W, P.O. Box No. 1119, Walker, MN, 56484.

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