Research: Rules of the (slick) roads for safety

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If you missed Ralph Bartholdt’s December article, Idaho ranks in the top 10 destinations for folks relocating from California, mostly from SoCal. To quote that article, “of the nearly 80,000 people who moved to Idaho last year, approximately 21,000 were former Californians … according to a survey done by United Van Lines and Storage Cafe, a national mobile storage company.”

Last I checked, southern California wasn’t big on snow. Now that it’s here with a vengeance, a few winter driving tips may not go amiss, not only for our new neighbors who lack experience, but for the rest of us too. Following just a few simple rules will keep everybody safer.

To avoid the average half-million crashes in the U.S. each winter (including 118,000 serious injuries or fatalities, according to the Federal Highway Administration), offers this advice:

Tips for driving in snow and ice:

• Stay home. Even if you drive well in bad weather, why take unnecessary risks?

• PLEASE SLOW DOWN. It’s about traction; even “clear” roads can be tricky with invisible ice. Especially coming to a stop or before turns, start sooner and much slower, leaving plenty of space. So many, many winter accidents in North Idaho are preventable for this reason alone.

• Accelerate and decelerate slowly. That’s key to avoid skidding across a road. Apply gas slowly to regain traction. Don’t try to get moving in a hurry. Take extra time to slow down for a stoplight.

• Increase following distance (to five to six seconds). This increased margin gives you the distance to stop if needed.

• Know your brakes. With or without anti-lock brakes, AAA recommends keeping the heel of your foot on the floor, using the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal. Better yet, consult your car’s manual and be familiar with its braking nuances.

• Don’t stop when 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 maneuver while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, AAA says do it.

• Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads will just make your wheels spin. 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 hill crest, reduce speed and proceed downhill slowly.

• Don’t stop uphill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway beforehand.


• Stock the car. Keep cold-weather gear in your car, such as extra food and water, warm clothing, a flashlight, a scraper, blankets, medications, and ice melt or cat litter.

• Stay with the vehicle if you get stuck. The car provides shelter and makes it easier for rescuers to locate you. Tie a bright-colored cloth to the antenna or stick it in a rolled up window to signal distress. At night, keep the dome light on if possible. Don’t try to walk in a storm; it’s easier than you think to get lost. You don’t want to become one of our news stories.

• Tires are a high priority. Make sure they’re properly inflated (winter changes pressure) and have plenty of tread. Remember: Studded or all-season tires help, but don’t guarantee safety, so don’t get cocky.

• Fill the tank. At least half full or more at all times.

• Don’t use cruise control on ice and snow.

• Clear the exhaust pipe. Make sure it isn’t clogged with slush. A blocked exhaust pipe can cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to leak into the passenger compartment.

If you’re inexperienced or skid-prone, there are free instructional videos online. If it’s YouTube, just make sure it’s offered by a reputable source, such as SmartDrive, AAA, or a state highway department. The Idaho Transportation Department recommends finding an empty parking lot to practice, especially if you don’t know how to quickly recover from a skid.

That’s not a bad idea for more experienced winter drivers, too. Some of us are dangerously overconfident.


Sholeh Patrick is a columnist with the Hagadone News Network who loves snow but fears irresponsible drivers. Contact her at

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