Winter Weather Is Here; So What’s Your Hurry?

HYANNIS – For those of us in New England, it can be amusing to watch Weather Channel footage of drivers in southern states slipping and sliding when there’s a mere dusting of snow. We get a little cocky. We’ve got this covered, we tell ourselves.

And yet, every winter storm on Cape Cod brings news coverage of fender benders or worse. Maybe a little extra caution wouldn’t be a bad thing.

So on the morning of this winter’s first snowstorm – and more on the way, we asked Lt. Brandon Esip of the Bourne Police Department for some tips on how to stay safe on the roads when the winter weather hits.

  • Slow Down: “Wherever you’re going, allow more time to get there. Even if you’re running late, just slow down and get there in one piece.”

Drive appropriately for the weather conditions: “Just because a road’s speed limit says 50 doesn’t mean it’s always safe to go that fast. This morning I was driving 35 on the Bourne Scenic Highway. Even if you have four-wheel drive, that does not prevent you from sliding off the road if you’re not driving appropriately for the conditions.”

  • Be sure to clear snow and ice from your windshield, roof and all lights: “You want to have full visibility. If you leave snow on the roof, it can melt and refreeze and then send a whole sheet of ice flying off the roof, endangering the driver behind you. And clearing your headlights and brake lights will help other people see you.

In a press release about winter driving, the Massachusetts State Police recommends that you “allow extra space between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you. Remember, stopping distances also need to be increased. Watch for black ice and be aware that bridge surfaces tend to freeze more quickly and remain frozen longer than other road surfaces.”

The Massachusetts State Police also recommends that drivers dress properly with warm clothing, a hat, coat, gloves, and winter footwear, and that you carry some emergency equipment, whether it’s for your own use or helping a stranger who doesn’t follow these tips. Gear to have includes:

  • A fully inflated spare tire
  • Jumper cables
  • Snow shovel
  • Flashlight
  • Flares
  • Ice scraper
  • Blanket

The Mass. Department of Transportation (DOT) has a useful collection of safe winter driving tips.

Ever get tempted to pass a slow-moving snowplow? The DOT points out that the blade in front of the truck extends several feet in front of the truck and sometimes extends off the side, so be sure you have plenty of room before passing.

But why be in such a rush to pass the snowplow?

“Remember that the road in front of the plow is usually in much worse condition than the roadway behind the plow,” says the DOT. “For your safety, it is recommended that you stay a safe distance behind the snowplows.”

More tips from the DOT:

  • Bridge decks freeze first. Due to the difference in the exposure to air, the surface condition can be worse on a bridge than on the approach road.
  • Exit ramps are an even greater challenge during the winter since they may have received less anti-icing material than the main line. Be aware of this when exiting the high.
  • Look further ahead in traffic than you normally do. Actions by cars and trucks will alert you quicker to problems and give you a split-second extra time to react safely.

More great winter driving tips are available from AAA (the American Automobile Association). It suggests following a distance of at least eight to ten seconds behind the car ahead of you. This increased margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.

The AAA pamphlet “How to Go on Ice and Snow” is worth reading. It includes detailed directions on steering and braking during icy and snowy conditions, and also shows how to handle rear-wheel and front-wheel skids.

Enjoy your winter travels – but do so safely!

By BILL O’NEILL, Cape Cod Health News

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