Archive for Wednesday, January 30, 2002

Before taking car on the road, heed winter safety precautions

January 30, 2002

As winter weather worsens, it is important for drivers to use extra caution and to prepare a survival kit in case they have car trouble.

"The biggest thing is to prepare your vehicle for travel in the weather," said Mark Engholm, Kansas Highway Patrol trooper.

Cold weather driving tips from the Kansas Highway Patrol: Increase following distance between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead of you. Make time to leave earlier in the morning for work or appointments in order to adjust for the inevitable delays due to slower traffic speeds and collisions. Accelerate and brake gently. Clean frost and snow off all windows, mirrors and lights. Use headlights when conditions dictate. Steer toward the direction you want to go if your car loses traction and begins to slide. For more winter weather driving and survival tips, visit the patrol's Web site: www.kansashighwaypatrol.org or call the Kansas Road Condition Hot Line at (800) 585-ROAD or *47 on cell phones.

The highway patrol Web site recommends checking a car's fluids to ensure that the radiator is winterized and that the car has a full tank of windshield washing fluid and at least a half-tank of gas.

Make sure tires have plenty of tread for winter driving, said Mike Bradshaw, Kansas State University Research and Extension safety specialist.

An old trick that Bradshaw recommends for checking tire treads is putting a penny in the treads with Lincoln's head facing toward the tire. If most of the head can be seen, then the treads should be checked by a professional.

Sgt. Andy Dedeke, of the traffic unit at the Leavenworth sheriff's department, said that it is important to know street and county names while traveling so emergency personnel can find you if you place a call for help.

"If you're traveling in an unfamiliar place, pay attention to road signs," Dedeke said. "Sometimes it helps to know what county you're in."

Engholm said it is very important to thoroughly scrape ice and snow from windows before driving to increase visibility.

Use an ice scraper, not windshield wipers, to scrape the ice off windows, said Bradshaw. And if your wipers are worn, replace them.

The highway patrol also suggests including these in a winter storm survival kit:

Metal coffee cans, matches or a lighter, candles, non-perishable food and can opener.

Blankets, extra winter clothing, first-aid kit, flashlight.

Shovel, tow rope or chain, fuses or flares, jumper cables, ice scraper, traction mats, sand or cat litter and a red flag.

Bradshaw said to always take a heavy coat to help with warmth if car troubles occur.

Dedeke recommends having a cell phone in working condition whenever traveling.

"If you have a cell phone, ensure that the batteries are charged, so you can call for help," Dedeke said.

When preparing to leave in the morning for work or school, Engholm advises accounting for the extra time it may take to travel to the desired destination because of the road conditions.

"The road conditions are not the same for that commute as they normally are," he said.

Many accidents can be avoided if people are not in a hurry, according to Engholm.

When driving on snow or ice, use extra caution when braking and turning, Dedeke warns. He said that the posted speed limit is for regular conditions and people need to drive slower in inclement weather to prevent accidents.

Bradshaw recommends that less experienced drivers practice driving in a large stadium parking lot after a fresh snow fall. When the car begins to slide, steer toward the skid.

Bradshaw said it is important to know what kind of brakes the car has and practice using them. If they are anti-lock brakes, press down on the pedal and hold. If they are regular brakes, they need to be pumped to make the vehicle stop.

When the weather report includes snow or black ice, decide whether the trip is necessary, Bradshaw said.

If you do get stranded in a winter storm, the patrol recommends remaining calm, staying in your vehicle, circulating fresh air, keeping active and turning on the dome light.

Bradshaw recommends keeping windows cracked when running the heater while stranded to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

Before leaving on a long trip, Dedeke recommends doing some research.

"If traveling far, try to plan your route and try to call ahead and make sure the route is clear," Dedeke said.

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