Turning leaves, diminishing sunlight and cooling temperatures are signaling the end of summer here in Colorado. The 50th Space Wing Safety office suggests now is the time to begin thinking about winter driving conditions.
The Pikes Peak region regularly receives its first bout of snow during the month of October. Thanks to the high altitude at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, winter conditions typically continue through April and often into May. Drivers could face hazardous driving conditions for several months and the safety office is urging people to make sure their vehicles are prepared for the season.
“First, Team Schriever members should ensure the mechanical ability of their vehicles,” said Master Sgt. Sarah Law, 50th Space Wing ground safety manager. “Fluids, belts, windshield wipers and especially tires need to be in proper working order. It’s a good idea to check the tread on tires as well.”
Drivers are also advised to carry a winter driving kit in their vehicles. A typical kit includes a flashlight with extra batteries, flares or reflective triangles, jumper cables, a first aid kit, rags or paper towels, candles or matches, a gallon jug of water, non-clumping kitty litter and an ice scraper, snow brush and snow shovel. Also, if drivers become stranded, they should not leave their vehicle. Instead, they should use a cell phone to call for help and wait for assistance to arrive.
Traffic mishaps are so prevalent when the snow falls here that Colorado Springs Police Department often reverts to a cold reporting policy during winter storms, which means drivers have up to 72 hours to report traffic incidents that don’t involve injuries or when alcohol or drugs is not a suspected factor.
When on base, drivers should report all traffic incidents immediately to the 50th Security Forces Squadron at 567-5643.
“Driving too fast for conditions is the most common cause of traffic mishaps,” Law said. “People should allow more time to get to work. If you leave home at your normal time [during adverse road conditions] you’re setting yourself up for failure.”
Intersections are prime areas for traffic mishaps and there are plenty between Colorado Springs neighborhoods and Schriever.
“When you’re driving in adverse weather conditions, you need to look down the road,” Law said. “If you see an intersection signal turn yellow, you need to start slowing down in advance and coast up to the intersection. On the flip side, if you’re approaching a yellow light and you’re right at the light during icy conditions, you have to use your best judgment. It might be safer to roll through the yellow light if you think there is a chance you could lose control by trying to stop too quickly. Something to think about too is if you’re stopped at a light in that same type of scenario, you may want to wait for other cars to clear the intersection before starting out.”
Drivers are urged to exercise caution whenever they approach bridges, overpasses or off ramps as these structures tend to develop ice faster and more frequently than normal roadways.
“Risk management can be a life saver,” said. Lt. Col. Nate Iven, 50 SW chief of safety. “Assess the road conditions along your route; allow extra time for delays and communicate deviations from your schedule with your family or work center. Most importantly, understand that conditions can change and that you can make a go/no go decision when required.”
Additional winter driving tips:
• Avoid driving while you’re fatigued. Getting the proper amount of rest before taking on winter weather tasks reduces driving risks.
• Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage.
• Make certain your tires are properly inflated.
• Never mix radial tires with other tire types.
• Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze-up.
• If possible, avoid using your parking brake in cold, rainy and snowy weather.
• Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface (wet, ice, sand).
• Always look and steer where you want to go.
• Use your seat belt every time you get into your vehicle.
Tips for long-distance winter trips:
• Watch weather reports prior to a long-distance drive or before driving in isolated areas. Delay trips when especially bad weather is expected. If you must leave, let others know your route, destination and estimated time of arrival.
• Pack a cellular telephone with your emergency telephone numbers, plus blankets, gloves, hats, food, water and any needed medication in your vehicle.
• If you become snow-bound, stay with your vehicle. It provides temporary shelter and makes it easier for rescuers to locate you. Don’t try to walk in a severe storm. It’s easy to lose sight of your vehicle in blowing snow and become lost.
• Don’t over exert yourself if you try to push or dig your vehicle out of the snow.
• Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna or place a cloth at the top of a rolled up window to signal distress. At night, keep the dome light on if possible. It only uses a small amount of electricity and will make it easier for rescuers to find you.
• Make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t clogged with snow, ice or mud. A blocked exhaust could cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to leak into the passenger compartment with the engine running.
• Use whatever is available to insulate your body from the cold. This could include floor mats, newspapers or paper maps.
• If possible run the engine and heater just long enough to remove the chill and to conserve gasoline.
Tips for driving in the snow:
• Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Don’t try to get moving in a hurry. And take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on icy roads.
• Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping, and turning — nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly.
• The normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to 10 seconds. This increased margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.
• Know your brakes. Whether you have anti lock brakes or not, the best way to stop is threshold breaking. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.
• Don’t stop if you can avoid it. There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it.
• Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed downhill as slowly as possible.
• Don’t stop going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.
• Stay home. If you really don’t have to go out, don’t. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can. Don’t tempt fate: If you don’t have somewhere you have to be, watch the snow from indoors.