Winter driving in Fulton County can be a free-for-all on wheels, but a little patience and a lot of common sense can significantly cut the risk factor in seasonal weather.
It happens every year, said Fulton County Sheriff Roy Miller. During the first fresh snow of the year “it seems like people forget the basics of how to drive. During that first snow we’ll have 15 accidents.”
It’s only after the first snowfall that motorists remind themselves and each other they need to slow down to better navigate slick roads, he said.
If a vehicle does begin sliding in winter conditions the driver needs to remember, “With technology, it’s not like it used to be,” Miller said. He said it’s important to keep a steady foot on the brake pedal, rather than pumping it in an attempt to stop.
If a driver becomes stranded in snow without a cell phone available, remaining in the vehicle is the best way to stay protected. Miller said it’s important to keep the vehicle running, and to make sure snow isn’t plugging the exhaust pipe so deadly fumes can’t enter the interior.
He said if a motorist chooses to stop and help a stranded driver they should pull off the road in a safe, unobstructed manner. After exiting their car they need to closely guard against being struck by passing traffic.
“If you’re going to check on somebody, watch yourself, too,” he said.
National Safety Council spokesperson Maureen Vogel said with the advent of anti-lock braking systems (ABS) on vehicles “you don’t pump the brakes anymore. Trust that ABS system is going to work the way it’s designed to.”
She said it’s important that drivers are aware of five critical technologies modern vehicles have: anti-lock brakes, which help significantly when driving on ice; adaptive headlights that adjust to the outside environment; traction control, which helps on icy roads and snow; a warning device that advises the driver of sudden shifts in the outside temperature; and electronic stability control.
Vogel said most of those features are becoming standard on vehicles.
“This technology can save us from the mistakes we used to make (driving in bad weather). They can mitigate a lot of the risks we used to have,” she said. “Winter crashes tend to be more dramatic, more serious. That’s reason enough to understand the technology in your car and equip yourself.”
She said one mistake technology can’t correct is when a driver fails to inform someone else of their driving plans and their estimated arrival time.
“You should always tell somebody what your plan is, and when you plan to arrive at your destination,” Vogel said. “Even in this day and age of cell phones, that’s something we should do if we’re headed into inclement weather.”
The National Safety Council also recommends keeping flares and an extra gallon of gas in a vehicle during winter months, and having a passenger along if the trip is on long stretches of highway.
And make certain the vehicle is equipped with a winter driving kit, said Rachel Kinsman, Fulton County Safe Communities coordinator. Cell phones aren’t foolproof, and help might not be immediately available.
Wise motorists stock their trunks during the winter with kitty litter for tire traction, a small shovel, a flashlight, an extra pair of gloves and hat, an ice scraper, a blanket, jumper cables, and, if possible, flares or an orange, triangular “caution” sign. Drivers should also stock up on bottled water and non-perishable foods like granola bars.
It’s a mistake to presume being stranded is improbable, Kinsman said. “People are probably thinking, ‘It’s not going to happen to me.’ Just as a general winter preparation, they might not think about it too much. It’s better to have (a kit) and never have to use it.”
She agrees it’s much safer to remain in the vehicle, which provides temporary shelter. Attempting to walk for help can be dangerous, especially if walking along a roadway or in a heavy, disorienting snowfall.
Being a hurried driver during winter can be a recipe for disaster, she said. Plan accordingly for extra time to reach a destination, always wear a seat belt, and accelerate and decelerate the vehicle slowly.
The best protection is to stay home when driving conditions are sketchy, Kinsman added. “If you really don’t have to go out, don’t. Even though you may be well-equipped to drive in the snow, others may not, and could involve you in an accident.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.