• Best approach to winter driving: Be prepared
  • Top 10 tips for safe winter travel
  • Make sure your vehicle is in good winter condition
  • Stay safe when driving near snowplows
  • Operating a vehicle safely in winter conditions
  • Emergency supplies for your vehicle
  • Emergency procedures
  • 511 enhancement enables motorists to report on conditions
  • Hazardous condition alerts to be more visible on 511 system
  • ITD’s 511 evolving system remains one of best in nation

  • 511 enhancement enables motorists
    to report on conditions

    What you see is what you get. ITD now offers an opportunity for others to get what you see.

    A new enhancement to the 511 Traveler Information system puts highway condition reporting in the hands of those who know the conditions best – drivers. An interactive component, “CARS-Vox,” added in September, enables drivers to report what they experienced on their commutes or drives across the state.

    511 Traveler Services coordinator Tony Ernest calls it a new form of “crowd sourcing,” enabling direct input by drivers using the “full feature” option on the 511.idaho.gov website.

    “This is new territory for us. It is the first time we have invited the public to submit reports directly to us,” Ernest explains. “In the past, it has been one-way communication to the users, providing observations of maintenance workers. Now we’re asking drivers to reciprocate by sending us information about what they observe.”

    The enhancement was developed specifically for ITD by CARS (Condition Acquisition Reporting System) that provides the technology behind 511 systems in 10 states across the country and in one non-state organization – the Sacramento Area Council of Governments.

    Utah uses a similar, but slightly different “citizen reporting” system, and Wyoming accepts citizen reports through its operations center and manually transfers those reports into its 511 system, Ernest said. Neither is a member of the CARS coalition, but they use an alternative service to provide similar information.

    But Idaho’s version is one of the national leaders. Iowa and Sacramento will join Idaho this winter in introducing CARS-Vox citizen reporting. It is based on pre-selected routes that users save in the full feature (high bandwidth) option on the 511 website. Users who have established a free account and saved routes they commonly travel now have ability to self-report conditions.

    How to use the new option, available only on the high bandwidth or “Full Feature” option:

    1. Access the “Full Feature” option on the 511 main page (511.idaho.gov).
    2. Log into the 511 system by choosing the “sign in” tab at the far right of the full-feature site
    3. Select the “Show List Views” button in the upper left of the menu
    4. Users can open their preferred routes or create new ones.
    5. After routes have been identified and saved, choose “Send us an update” to the right of the specific route.
    6. Three options appear: Clear, Patchy and Messy
    7. Choosing “Clear” enters information about the route without opportunity for additional comments. Choosing “patchy” or “messy” offers additional options, such as snowy, icy, raining, snowing, etc.
    8. A field below those options allows users to post short personal observations.

    Before attempting to enter observations, citizen reporters should contact Ernest for a brief overview on using the new option. Reporting the conditions encountered will take a little practice, he advises.

    Motorists can break their travel into several smaller segments and provide reports on each. The interactive 511 map enables users to “slide “ or reposition beginning and ending points on the map to expand or contract the segments desired.

    Information is clearly identified as a “driver update, and includes a time stamp and an attribution. Drivers can use a pseudonym if they choose. All data input is filtered for inappropriate language and is monitored. It also includes a disclaimer that ITD is not responsible for the accuracy or validity of the citizen input.

    To ensure that reports are timely, they are automatically deleted after four hours.

    Drivers should access the CARS-Vox system only after completing their trip and never while driving, Ernest insists. While mobile access to the 511 system might be possible, it usually requires faster data transmission speeds and larger bandwidth than many mobile devices can accommodate.

    The safest and easiest option is to file the reports from work or home after arriving.

    The citizen reporting feature is the latest of many enhancements ITD has made to the 511 system to ensure motorists have the best information available when making travel plans. ITD’s award-winning system remains one of the most robust in the country, based on input and suggestions of its users. It is constantly evolving to better serve travelers.

    “Our goal is to make sure drivers have access to timely and accurate information, whether they are commuting to and from work or traveling across the state,” Ernest says.

    “The new option supplements reports our maintenance personnel make in the field. No matter how well our employees report on conditions, there are always opportunities to fill in the gaps. That’s what the new feature is designed to do.”

    The 511 system is updated immediately whenever reports are entered from ITD employees in the field. That can occur continually during a winter storm event. Even if conditions are unchanged, the 511 reports are updated at least twice daily during the winter and at lease once daily on weekends and holidays. With citizen reporting, updates are constant throughout the day, in near-real time.”

    Information also is available through e-mail alerts or text messages if users choose those options.

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    Hazardous condition alerts to be
    more visible on 511 system

    A new alert notification on ITD’s 511 Traveler Services system (511.idaho.gov) will be introduced this fall to let motorists know of potentially hazardous conditions.

    The new alerts are based on highway and weather data recorded at more than 100 Road Weather Information Stations (RWIS) located at strategic sites across Idaho. A new icon that features a thermometer in a red triangle will identify places where motorists might encounter slick highway surfaces, high winds, snowfall or low visibility (fog, blowing snow and dust), explains Tony Ernest, coordinator of ITD’s 511 system.

    “Travelers will have access to the hazard alert information generated automatically from our 511 system,” Ernest says. “It will create a more visible way of identifying areas that might have hazardous conditions.”

    Available on the “full feature” (high bandwidth site), the alerts will display automatically on the 511 Idaho map, even if website users don’t choose to display camera views. When they select the icon, an array of highway and weather reports will be visible, but a special banner at the top of the window will clearly identify the hazardous conditions that can be expected.

    The window also shows a wealth of more traditional highway data associated with the RWIS sites that have been available for about six years. Created primarily as a tool for maintenance crews, the RWIS sites include camera views of major highways and mountain passes. The cameras and condition reports help motorists make safe travel decisions, even if hazard alerts have not been triggered. Data includes:

    1. Relative humidity
    2. Dew point temperatures
    3. Precipitation
    4. Wind speed and direction
    5. Snow depth
    6. Visibility, and more than a dozen other measurements

    Ernest hopes hazard reports will be available on the “streamlined” 511 section in the future and perhaps push those alerts directly to motorists as technology and funds become available.

    Idaho is the only state in the CARS (Condition Acquisition Reporting System) coalition that can generate automatic hazardous condition alerts or warnings, Ernest says.

    ITD invested about $45,000 in the new enhancement and has been working on implementing it since early summer.

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    ITD's 511 evolving system remains one of best in nation

    ITD’s 511 Traveler Services system replaced the Idaho road report in 2005, providing computer access to information that previously was voice recorded and made available through a toll-free telephone number.

    Technology has improved exponentially the past decade, along with consumers' appetites for immediate information. ITD abandoned its labor-intensive telephone system and introduced a new web-based 511 Traveler Services (511.idaho.gov) initiative as part of a nationwide movement in transportation.

    ITD’s 511 system is a “living” technology that continues to evolve through ongoing enhancements. The backbone of the system (CARS 511, Condition Acquisition Reporting System) was developed by Castle Rock Consultants, which represents a nationwide consortium of transportation agencies.

    This fall, ITD introduced a new option for users of its full-featured, web-based system – direct reports from motorists who provide near real-time condition updates. Another enhancement will use new icons to provide visitors to the full feature site of hazardous conditions as recorded at more than 100 Road Weather Information Stations statewide.

    What is next on the horizon for ITD’s 511 system?

    ITD plans to add a “Smart 511” update to simplify the telephone process. It would recognize the home number of the caller, tailor a welcome message and provide information early in a telephone call rather than driving callers deeper into a series of menu options.

    It will provide more direct, faster access to the information that callers want, explains Tony Ernest, coordinator of ITD’s 511 Traveler Services system.

    A smart phone app (application) will let the 511 system “follow” motorists as they drive and customize information specific to their location. The app will provide access to winter driving conditions and road reports, traffic conditions and camera views, among others.

    The smart phone app could be available to join the other active enhancements within a year, Ernest says. He encourages 511 users to contact him with suggestions about possible enhancements in the future.

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    Best approach to winter driving: Be prepared

    Many Idahoans will go "over the river and through the woods" for Thanksgiving reunions this month, and chances are good that winter driving conditions will be on the holiday menu at higher elevations.

    ITD encourages drivers to plan ahead, make sure their vehicle is properly checked, equipped for winter travel and exercise appropriate caution on the highways.

    Idaho is rugged country with a diverse geography and natural beauty. The qualities that invite exploration, recreation and commerce also can make winter driving a challenge. Safely navigating Idaho’s winter weather and highways requires preparation.

    It begins before you begin, ITD advises.

    “We often receive a few early storms that remind us winter is around the corner and that we should begin to anticipate more difficult driving conditions,” said ITD Chief Engineer Tom Cole. He encourages Idaho drivers to make sure their vehicles are ready for the coming season and to begin preparing for snow-covered roads.

    “Preparation and anticipation are two strategies that will help ensure safe winter driving. Our highest priority is to provide the safest travel conditions possible. We have professionals assigned to winter maintenance, and they are ready for the challenges ahead. But we also ask drivers to do their part to make winter travel safer by exercising caution and patience," Cole added.

    Now is the time to make sure you and your vehicle are ready for the demands of winter driving. The transportation department will do everything possible from a maintenance perspective to ensure that you arrive safely at your destination.

    The department encourages a pre-winter vehicle inspection that includes tires, brakes, windshield wipers and fluid levels. Drivers should carry essential emergency items when traveling on Idaho highways. They also should be familiar with how their vehicle handles in a variety of conditions, including snow and ice.

    Drivers should check Idaho’s 511 Traveler Services website (511.idaho.gov) or call 5-1-1 before traveling out of town in the winter for the latest reports on highway and weather conditions. Reports are updated at least twice daily during the week and at least once daily on weekends. They also are changed more frequently as weather and highway conditions change.

    Perhaps the best defense against demanding winter driving conditions is a good offense: ITD recommends that drivers should never turn the ignition key without first buckling their seat belt.

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    Top 10 tips for safe winter travel

    As Idaho motorists take to the roads this winter, ITD reminds that a few extra precautions can make winter journeys safer. ITD's top 10 recommendations for safe winter travel are:

    1. Be prepared. Winter conditions increase the importance of a well-maintained vehicle. Keep car windows, mirrors and lights clear of snow and ice. Make sure tires and brakes are ready for the extra demands of winter. Visit a mechanic and ensure car battery and fluid levels are sufficient, heating units are working properly and that tires have sufficient traction for snowy conditions.

    2. Plan ahead. Before heading out on the state's roadways, dial 5-1-1 or visit 511.idaho.gov on the Web for updates on winter road and weather conditions, emergency closures and access to highway condition reports. Images from cameras throughout the state are available on the website and on the mobile web application.

    3. Buckle up. Wearing a seat belt is the most effective safety precaution you can take. Children also must be properly secured in an approved safety seat that is right for their age and weight and installed according to specifications. If you need help ensuring proper installation, watch for local clinics or visit a fire station in your area.

    4. Check the signs. ITD uses variable message signs on high-traffic routes to advise motorists of winter hazards. Those messages change as conditions change. Also pay attention to roadside signs, such as speed limits, high wind and low visibility advisories, sharp curves and potentially icy bridges.

    5. Slow down. Leave a few minutes early, allow windshields adequate time to defrost and allow extra time to get to your destination. It is better to be a few minutes late than to not arrive at all. Don’t put yourself and others at risk by driving too fast for the conditions. Posted speed limits represent maximum speeds for ideal conditions. The basic rule suggests lower speeds as dictated by weather and highway conditions.

    6. Use extra caution. Be aware of potentially icy areas such as shady spots and bridges. Take caution against black ice. Drive less than the speed limit if conditions warrant. Allow extra distance between your car and the one you’re following. Check your mirrors to see how other motorists are driving; anticipate their actions.

    7. Drive safely around snowplows. Drive at least two car lengths behind snowplows for every 10 mph of car speed. Do not pass a snowplow unless absolutely necessary and only when you have a clear view of the highway ahead. Never drive through the snow being ejected from plows because the force of the spray can throw a car out of control.

    8. Keep emergency supplies in the car. Flashlights, extra batteries, first aid kit, pocket knife/multi-purpose tool, blanket or sleeping bag, extra clothing, small sack of sand or cat litter for generating traction under vehicle wheels, a small shovel, bottled water, booster cables, rope, energy bars or other food, brightly-colored scarf to attract attention in case of an emergency, waterproof matches or cigarette lighter and a map of the area.

    9. Keep in touch. If carrying a cell phone, make sure its battery is fully charged and have a list of emergency telephone numbers available. Also, share travel plans with family or friends, including estimated departure and arrival times, intended route and destination.

    10. Never drink and drive. Idaho law enforcement officers will increase patrols, especially during holidays, to catch and arrest drunk drivers. Be safe and keep others safe by designating a sober driver before traveling to any party or event involving alcohol consumption.

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    Make sure your vehicle is in good winter condition

    The American Automobile Association (AAA) recommends that drivers check their vehicles to ensure equipment is in good winter operating condition. If in doubt, replace parts or equipment. Consult a repair technician for complicated inspections.

    Items to check:

    1. Battery, cables and battery posts
    2. Wipers and windshield washer fluid
    3. Antifreeze level
    4. Ignition system
    5. Thermostat
    6. Headlights, hazard lights, brake lights and turn signals
    7. Exhaust system
    8. Window defroster and interior heater
    9. Brakes and brake fluid levels
    10. Oil level (if necessary, replace existing oil with a winter grade or SAE 10w/30 viscosity)
    11. Winter tires, studs and/or tire chains (make sure you know how to install chains before the need arises)

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    Stay safe when driving near snowplows

    As winter weather approaches, ITD reminds motorists to use caution when traveling the state's highways during inclement weather and to cooperate with maintenance workers clearing the highways.

    1. When driving near snowplows, keep a few safety tips in mind:
    2. Remain two car lengths behind snowplow trucks for every 10 mph you drive.
    3. Do not pass a snowplow unless it is absolutely necessary. If you must pass, do so only when you can clearly see the road ahead.
    4. Do not pass on the side where the plow is spraying snow. If you do, the snow's force can knock your car out of control. Rocks and other debris mixed with snow also can damage your vehicle.
    5. Watch for "wing" plow blades that extend beyond the travel lane being plowed.
    6. Do not cut back immediately in front of a snowplow truck. The plow blades often are covered with snow and can be difficult to see.
    7. Do not brake suddenly if you are traveling in front of a snowplow. The heavy vehicle cannot stop as quickly as an automobile.
    8. Do not abandon your vehicle on the shoulder of a highway unless it is absolutely necessary. However, if you must, leave it as far off the road as possible and tie a bright cloth to the driver's side mirror or antenna to warn snowplow drivers. Abandoned cars can interfere with the road-clearing process and can be extremely hazardous to snow removal equipment and operators if they are hidden or buried by snow.
    9. Be aware of potential icy areas such as shady spots, especially bridges and overpasses. Since they are exposed on their undersides, bridges and overpasses are deprived of ground warmth and freeze more rapidly than the roadways leading to them.
    For the latest highway and weather conditions call Idaho’s 511 Traveler Services at 5-1-1. For online updates, visit 511.idaho.gov. Telephone and Web reports are available 24 hours a day and are updated at least twice daily on weekdays, at least once daily on weekends, or whenever conditions change.

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    Operating a vehicle safely in winter conditions

    It may seem obvious, but operating a vehicle in winter conditions is vastly different than in normal, dry conditions. Stopping distances are greater, handling is more difficult and driving requires your undivided attention. You can't be too cautious.

    Following are some tips that will help you when operating a vehicle in the winter:

    1. Drive at a pace that you believe is safest for your vehicle and your driving abilities. Do not let other drivers dictate your speed. If traffic builds behind you, look for a safe place to pull to the right and allow others to pass.
    2. Keep at least three times the normal following distance from vehicles in front of you on snow or ice so you can slow down or brake gradually.
    3. Plan ahead to brake smoothly when approaching intersections.
    4. Drive with low-beam headlights in heavy snowfall or fog. Keep your headlights, stoplights and turn signal lenses clean. Dirty headlights can cut visibility by 50 percent or more.
    5. Hold the steering wheel firmly and avoid making sudden turns. Use a light touch to correct a skid.
    6. If you need to install tire chains, look for a safe place away from traffic. Know how to install them properly before embarking on winter travel and practice installing them if you cannot remember the process. Tire chains should be applied to the drive wheels.
    7. Never install studded tires only on front wheels; if using studded tires on a front-wheel-drive vehicle, put them on all four wheels.
    8. Do not blaze your own trail on unplowed roads or through snowdrifts.
    9. When you see deer or other animals ahead, slow down and be prepared to stop until you are safely past them.
    10. Watch out for snowplows and sanders as you round corners and curves.
    11. Slow down. Plows and sanders will pull over occasionally to let traffic by. It is risky to pass a snowplow because of blowing snow. You should not pass a snowplow on the side where snow is being ejected.
    12. If you start to skid, ease your foot off the accelerator. If you have a manual transmission, push in the clutch. Keep your foot off the brake and steer in the direction the rear of the vehicle is skidding.
    13. Your owner's manual usually will recommend the braking technique most effective for your vehicle. Information from the National Safety Council indicates that drivers with front- and rear-wheel-drive vehicles with disc or drum brakes should press on the brake pedal with a slow, steady pressure until just before they lock. When you feel them start to lock, ease off until your wheels are rolling, then gently press the pedal again.
    If you hit an unexpected patch of ice, ease up on your accelerator and let your vehicle "roll" through the slippery

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    Emergency supplies for your vehicle

    Carry the following in an emergency box or plastic tub in your vehicle trunk or cargo area of your SUV or pickup:

    1. Flashlights with extra batteries
    2. Stocked first aid kit (check that items are not missing or outdated)
    3. Pocketknife or multi-purpose tool
    4. Blanket or sleeping bag
    5. Mittens, socks and a wool cap
    6. Waterproof matches or butane lighter
    7. Waterproof covering like a tarp or poncho
    8. Three-pound coffee can or equivalent for heating water
    9. A small sack of sand or cat litter for generating traction under stuck wheels (also adds weight for better traction and handling)
    10. A small shovel
    11. Bottled water (but remember it will probably freeze so allow expansion room in the container)
    12. Battery booster (jumper) cables
    13. Energy bars or other high-energy food like raisins or nuts
    14. Candles (a blanket over your head, body heat and the heat from a single candle can prevent freezing)
    15. Basic tool kit, including pliers, screwdrivers, adjustable wrench, tape and wire
    16. Paper towels or toilet tissue, good for their designed purpose as well as a fire starter
    17. Spare tire
    18. Rope, tow chain or a strap
    19. Map of the area where you plan to travel
    20. Signaling devices such as emergency flares, brightly-colored cloth, athletic whistle or a mirror

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    Emergency procedures

    Basic automobile parts can help save a stranded motorist. Put these automotive parts to good use in an extreme emergency:

    1. A hubcap or sun visor can be substituted for a shovel.
    2. Seat covers can be used as a blanket.
    3. Floor mats can be used to block the wind.
    4. Engine oil burned in a hubcap creates a smoke signal visible for miles.
    5. A car horn can be heard as far as a mile downwind. Three long blasts, ten seconds apart, every 30 minutes, is a standard distress signal.
    6. A rear-view mirror can be removed and used as a signaling device.

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