By: Mr. Ron Gibbens, TMP
Used with Permission Fort Greely Interceptor
With the first snowflakes falling this morning it is time to start the mental process of transitioning to WINTER driving. Here are some tips to help you get through the transition period and on into winter.
Our first snowfall signals the arrival of one the most dangerous times of the year for vehicle accidents in Alaska. Every year at this time traffic accidents increase dramatically. The most common accidents are not being able to stop at intersections and front end sliding wide on corners. Both can be prevented by adjusting your speed to road conditions.
Newcomers to Alaska and old-timers alike need to mentally adjust to the “new” driving season with the first snowfall. Winter driving requires a conscious effort to adjust to the lack of traction and the “forgotten or never learned” driving style required for driving on ice and snow packed roads. Driving on ice and snow can require up to three times the stopping distance of that on normal dry road surfaces. What this means is that if you can normally stop your car/truck in 300 feet on a dry road surface it can take you up to 900 feet that’s almost ¼ mile on an icy or snow packed surface. You need to increase your following distance by at least 3 to 6 times the normal distance to compensate for the increased stopping distance.
Along with driving on an icy/snow packed road surface also comes driving in increasing darkness. Because increased stopping distance is required, it is easy to “overdrive” your headlights. Overdriving your headlights simply means, by the time a hazard appears in your headlights, you may be too close to stop or avoid the hazard. To help avoid these situations, allow for extra stopping distance, keep your headlights and taillights clean.
“BLACK ICE” on the roadway is a phenomenon has sent many a driver skidding and sliding down what looked like a dry road.
Black Ice is frozen water— either from sleet, rain or from melted snow—that freezes as a sheet and is not visible as ice. The road looks
the same as it always does, which is why it’s so hard to detect, especially if you have been driving awhile. In the Interior black ice is most likely to occur after a warm day during which the snow melted and then freezes when the temperature dropped at night. Watch for black ice on bridges, overpasses, underpasses and in shaded areas such as cuts through the hills or where there are heavily wooded areas close to the roadway. Black ice is one of the hazards that four-wheel drive cannot overcome and some of us will get complacent because we have four-wheel drive. However you need to be just as careful as the motorist who has two-wheel drive when it comes to ice on the roadway.
Adding to the hazardous road conditions are ‘MOOSE”. Moose are everywhere in Alaska and can pop up in front of you at any time. In spite of their size they are very difficult to see because of their coloration and they are very agile. Many roads around the state are secondary roads with narrow cleared areas on either side. If you are distracted or driving too fast – your vehicle and the moose don’t stand a chance. Several people are killed every year in collision with moose.
Ten tips to help get you through the winter safely:
1. Warm your car up before departing.
2. Clean all of the snow/ice from your windows and lights before you drive off.
3. Allow extra time for your trip.
4. Begin stopping, prepare for lane changes or turns well in advance.
5. Avoid sudden braking, turns and acceleration.
6. Watch traffic in front, behind and on all sides of you and anticipate what the other driver might do.
7. Allow 3-6 times the normal following distance.
8. Do not use cruise control.
9. Use extreme caution when driving into blowing snow.
10. Above all SLOW DOWN.