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What about those winter roads?

A truck pulls slowly along during a snowstorm near Soldier Summit on Highway 6. Part of driving in the snow is being patient and taking the time to do things methodically.

Sun Advocate publisher

Winter roads are rarely safe; but much of safety deficiency is because drivers don't follow good driving habits when roads are not dry. A good well seasonsed driver will know that no road in cold weather is ever what it appears to be. Black ice and potholes can be found even the seemingly most illogical spots. Unfortunately, seasoned drives can also be fooled by their experiences, think they know more than they do.

Regardless of the obstacles a motorist faces in the winter, defensive driving is always the safest approach to take. Defensive driving involves anticipating potential dangers on the road, and those dangers include harsh weather conditions or what harsh weather has done to the roads that are being traveled upon.

Here are some ideas for dealing with winter roads.

*Leave several car lengths between the vehicle you are driving and the one in front of you. The rule of one car length for every 10 miles per hour between their vehicle and the one in front of them should maintain at least three times that when the roads are icy. Ice is often difficult to see, much less predict, so it's safer to leave significant distances between vehicles in case an ice patch causes a car to spin out of control.

*Decrease speeds. Most people walk gingerly on ice, and the same should go for driving on ice. Driving at lower speeds is ideal in any harsh weather conditions, but especially valuable when the roads are icy and ice patches can appear suddenly and make it difficult to maintain control of a vehicle.

*Overdriving headlights in warm weather is dangerous, doing it in cold and bad weather is absolutely insane. Fog can obscure hazards in the road. Icy or snow packed patches can come up quickly without being seen.

*Don't use overdrive or cruise control when on icy roads. Overdrive might help in a snowstorm, but should be avoided when the roads are icy. The same goes for cruise control, which should never be turned on when conditions are icy. Cruise control makes it easy for motorists' minds to wander, a dangerous consequence should an icy patch of road suddenly appear. Many cruise controls can also create problems when one goes into a spin; if the driver doesn't hit the brake the vehicle keeps turning the tires like nothing is happening and a messy accident can result.

*When you have to brake, do so gently. Icy roads call for gently braking to avoid skidding. Drivers should be able to feel if their wheels are starting to lock up. If wheels begin to lock up, gently ease off the brake. Slamming on the brakes on an icy road will almost certainly send the vehicle into a tailspin, possibly pushing it into oncoming traffic or even off the road. On downhills use lower gears to keep speed under control.

*Drive carefully on bridges or overpasses. Overpasses tend to freeze up faster than other parts of the road because cold air passes over and under the structures. Warning signs accompany many bridges, informing motorists that the bridge freezes in icy conditions. But motorists shouldn't rely solely on signs to inform them of a potentially frozen bridge. The sign might not be visible in winter weather. To be safe, always proceed with caution when crossing a bridge in icy conditions.

*Be patient with snow plows and salt trucks. Snows plows and salt trucks might plod along the roads at a snail's pace, but drivers should never pass plows or salt trucks. The roads ahead of plows and trucks are likely in poor condition, and visibility from plows and trucks is often less than ideal, meaning the drivers might not see passing motorists, increasing the risk of a traffic accident.

*Don't be overconfident. Not all vehicles can adequately handle icy roadways. When the roads are especially icy, only drive if it's absolutely necessary. Many people get into trouble on ice because front wheel drive cars and and four wheel drive vehicles can often get traction to start up and feel fine, but when slowing down or braking that buildup of speed can be a disaster.

*Maintain a clean windshield. Ice patches are difficult enough to see as it is, but a dirty windshield only decreases the already limited visibility. Keep a bottle of anti-freeze windshield washer fluid at the ready and don't simply rely on the fluid already in the vehicle's windshield fluid tank. In especially icy conditions, that fluid might freeze or ice may block the fluid from leaving the tank. In addition, when the weather is particularly cold it is best to buy the more expensive windshield washer fluid than the inexpensive stuff. Good windshield washer fluid will protect down to -35 degrees.

*Turn your headlights on when driving in icy conditions, even if it's the middle of the day. Motorists will no doubt be paying close attention to the road, looking for ice patches or other potential pitfalls. But drivers may be apt to see another vehicle if its headlights are on and will likely drive accordingly.

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