Wednesday December 19, 2012

Every year it seems we have the same problem: It takes at least the first couple of winter storms for people to remember how to drive on icy or snow-covered roads.

This past weekend law enforcement agencies around the region, and in fact all over the state, responded to a multitude of vehicle crashes caused by people driving too fast for the conditions. In many of the crashes reported by the Reformer the driver in question slid and veered into the opposite lane. Some hit guardrails, embankments or mile markers, but a few also hit a vehicle coming from the other direction, causing injury and property damage not only to themselves but to others as well.

Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt or killed in any of these incidents, but that’s just pure luck that the outcomes weren’t more deadly.

Perhaps many of these drivers thought the roads weren’t that bad because it was a relatively mild storm and not the 6 to 12 inches we might get during a typical winter storm in northern New England. Or maybe they figured because they had all-wheel or four-wheel drive that they were impervious to the sleet and freezing rain.

Both are dangerous misconceptions. The wintery mix from the weekend storm is in many ways more hazardous than mere snow because it can produce spots of black ice that are more difficult to see and maneuver through -- even for those with all-wheel or four-wheel drive.

"People are driving as if the pavement is blacktop and sticky, and it doesn’t work," said Captain Ray Keefe, troop commander of Troop D of the Vermont State Police.

He said people were driving at a speed too fast for the existing conditions, operating with tires that are not suitable for the winter and failing to exercise common sense in hazardous conditions. He said if people don’t need to drive during a winter storm then they should stay home, and if they do need to be on the roads they should set the right speed.

The general rule of thumb is to drive at least 10 to 15 mph under the posted speed limit during icy conditions. Allow yourself extra driving time so you’re not rushed. And be sure to leave at least three times more space between you and the driver in front so you have more time to react if the other driver starts to slide. And for goodness sake, if other drivers are being cautious and going extra slow don’t tailgate them in an attempt to get them to speed up. All that does is stress out the other driver, and you’re also blinding him or her with your headlights, both of which increase the risk of an accident.

If all of this extra caution and slow driving make you late, so what. It’s better to arrive late than not at all.