Use caution on Idaho's highways this winter
The harsh winter of 2007-08 provided a vivid reminder about the importance of preparing for winter travel conditions. Snow, blowing and drifting snow, winds, poor visibility and ice can make winter driving difficult in Idaho. ITD reminds drivers to use extra caution when traveling the state's highways this winter.
Try to avoid driving until snowplows and sanding trucks have had a chance to do their work. Don’t pass those vehicles. Drivers of snowplows, sanding trucks and de-icing trucks are professional drivers and are experienced in battling winter roads, but they can be limited by reduced visibility and greater stopping distances.
Allow extra time to reach destinations. If you must drive in the snow, make sure you and your car are prepared for cold weather and that you know how to handle road conditions.
Driving safely on icy roads begins by decreasing speed and leaving plenty of room to stop. Allow at least three times more distance than usual between you and the car in front of you. Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.
Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills. Never use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads. Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.
Be careful on bridges, overpasses, and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.
It may be helpful to practice winter driving techniques in a snowy, open parking lot so you’re familiar with how your car handles.
If your rear wheels skid, take your foot off the accelerator and steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they’re sliding right, steer right. You may have to steer left and right a few times to regain complete control of the vehicle.
Gently pump standard brakes, however, apply steady pressure to anti-lock (ABS) brakes. It is normal for anti-lock brakes to pulse.
During a front-wheel skid, take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral but don’t try to steer immediately. As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction should return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in “drive” or release the clutch and accelerate gently.
If you end up stuck, avoid spinning your wheels because this will only dig you in deeper. Turn vehicle wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way. Use light acceleration to ease your vehicle out.
Use a shovel or hubcap to clear snow away from the wheels and underside of the vehicle then pour sand, cat litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels to help get traction.
Try rocking the vehicle by shifting from forward to reverse and back again. Each time your car is in gear, try adding a bit of gas until the vehicle gets going. Check your owner’s manual first. This can damage the transmission on some vehicles.
Do not leave a stranded car unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to find help, and you are certain you will improve your situation. Light flares a safe distance away from the vehicle or hang a brightly colored cloth from the antenna to attract attention.
If the vehicle’s exhaust pipe is not blocked, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so depending upon the amount of gas in the tank. Keep at least one window open slightly. Heavy snow and ice can seal a car shut. Protect yourself from frostbite or hypothermia by using woolen items and blankets to keep warm.
Finally, before embarking on an extended trip let someone know where you are going, the route you plan to take and when you expect to arrive.