County officials warn winter driving requires extra judgment
Wednesday, November 10, 2010 - 2:44 pm

Winter is almost here, and motorists need to adjust to changing road conditions, warns the county Traffic Safety Program office.

Although many of us commute to work, they say, some of our car trips may not be necessary. Before heading outside, ask yourself: Do you really need to go out? If so, take your patience with you. The best advice for driving during snowy and icy conditions is “Use caution.”

Black ice can be a particular problem in these fluctuating temperatures. During the day, ice and snow melt. Then as temperatures fall again, melted ice and snow refreeze on the roadways. Shaded areas under trees, as well as bridges and ramps, tend to freeze before road surfaces. Stopping distances are twice as long at 32 degrees as they are at zero degrees.

You may want to check conditions on-line before traveling. Some good sites are the

New York State Department of Transportation’s Travel site, inclduing links to weather advisories, at http://511ny.org/. If you’ll be traveling on the Thruway, their winter traveler advisory site is at http://www.thruway.state.ny.us/wtas/netdata/. You can also get real-time incident and congestion information for your route, including accidents, construction, and special events if you call 511 and say “Traffic Conditions.”

Is your vehicle ready for winter?

• Do you have winter tires? If not, how is the tread on your vehicles’ tires?

• Is the recommended amount of antifreeze in the radiator?

• Is the windshield washer reservoir full?

• And do you have enough gas just in case you get stuck in slow moving traffic for a while?

It’s important to think ahead about what you would do if you were to become stalled or have a collision on the trip you are taking. A well-charged cell phone can be a lifesaver. There are now very low cost phones available that are easy to use and/or that don’t require a long-term plan. If your phone has an address book, save your emergency contact numbers under “ICE” (in case of emergency).

Even if you belong to an auto club, it is worthwhile to carry a safety kit and flashlight in your trunk to help you get through emergencies. Everyone should carry an ice scraper and snow brush for uncovering your car, and many people carry a small shovel to help dig out in case they get stuck. Traction mats, kitty litter, and/or chains may help you to extricate from a slippery spot. If you carry jumper cables, make sure you review instructions on how to use them.

You should ask yourself if you are wearing clothes that are warm enough for the weather conditions. A jacket, gloves, hat, and boots are essential on a winter day. A spare blanket in your car would be welcome in case you get stuck. Safety organizations, such as the National Safety Council, also suggest you carry high energy snacks and first aid supplies. Other recommendations include bottled water and necessary prescription medicines, candles, warning devices such as flares, and matches or lighter.

Drive with Care

• Always wear your safety belt, and make sure that everyone in the vehicle is properly restrained. Your seat belt will help keep you behind the wheel and in control of the vehicle if you do skid.

• Leave plenty of room between your vehicle and the one ahead of you. If following a snow plow, stay back at least far enough so that you can keep the truck or plow’s outside mirrors in your sight.

• Match your speed to the road conditions.

• Try to do all braking when traveling straight, before you have to turn. Braking in the turn sets you up for a skid.

• Warm up the car so the defroster has a chance to clear the windows. Clean off the head and tail lights. (Newspaper can be used to clear them of salt if it is too cold to wash them.)

• Clear ice and snow from your vehicle (including the roof) for improved visibility and for the safety of motorists sharing the road with you.

• Use your headlights to help you to be seen by other vehicles. Remember, the law requires you to use your headlights—not just your fog lights—when your wipers are on.

• Remember that deer are also traveling this time of year. Scan the road, and slow down. If you see one deer, there are often more to follow.

Finally, when the snow does arrive, don’t plow or shovel the snow from your walk or driveway into the road. It’s not only unsafe, it’s illegal.