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Time To Think About Winter Driving

By Staff | Nov 29, 2011

With a little taste of freezing drizzle in the past week, the flipping of the calendar pages tells us that winter driving is just waiting around the corner. In our area of Northwest Iowa, winter provides a challenge in more ways than one. But the biggest challenge we face is being able to travel safely during the winter months.

With two major highways running through the county, traffic is usually able to move well during the winter months, but budgetary constraints at the state level may mean motorists could see some changes in the winter driving season.

The Iowa Department of Transportation has announced some changes in winter operations for the upcoming driving season. The biggest change will be in nighttime plowing of U.S. Highway 18 and Iowa Highway Four.

Between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., there will be less plowing by DOT forces and the application of salt on roadways will also be cut back slightly. DOT plow operators will also strive to make two clear wheel paths on U.S. Highway 18, and one clear wheel path on Iowa Highway Four during the upcoming snow season.

According to DOT representatives, roads will continue to be kept in good condition, but there may be a few more slick spots and finger drifting on roadways this winter than in past winter seasons.

To prepare for the winter driving season, the Palo Alto County Sheriff’s Office is reminding all motorists that when an advisory against travel is issued, it should be respected. On numerous occasions, authorities have issued “no travel advisories” during winter storms, and then have had to venture out in dangerous conditions to rescue motorists who ignore the advisories and try to drive into a storm. Such incidents put not only the motorist but the rescuers at great personal risk.

Motorists are urged to make sure their vehicles are in good condition and adequately prepared for winter travel. Check the air pressure in tires, check anti-freeze, wiper blades and always keep the gas tank filled.

An emergency kit should be in every vehicle that includes extra clothing, a blanket, candles, non-perishable food, such as chocolate and a flashlight. Other items could include a shovel, tire chains, tow rope and flares.

If you must travel during inclement weather, make sure someone knows what route of travel you will be taking so that if your vehicle should become disabled, searchers would be able to re-trace your path of travel.

Another important thing to do before traveling in the winter is to check on road and weather conditions. Many states offer special travel information numbers or websites.

For Road Surface Condition Reports:

In Iowa: dial *511; or go to www.511ia.org

In Minnesota: dial (800)542-0220 or *511; or go to www.511mn.org

In South Dakota: dial (866)697-3511 or *511; or go to www.sddot.com

In Nebraska: dial (800) 906-9069 or *511; or go to www.511nebraska.org

In Missouri: dial (800)222-6400 or (888)275-6636; or go to www.modot.org

In Illinois: dial (800)452-4368; or go to www.gettingarondillinois.com

In Wisconsin: dial *511; or go to www.511wi.gov

In many states, if weather conditions force the closures of roads, barricades are lowered to stop motorists from traveling further on the roadway. Such barricades are in place on the Interstate Highway system in Iowa. Some states also provide penalties against drivers who ignore such barricades and travel on a road during a severe weather event. Should that driver ignore a barricade and require rescue, the costs of the rescue effort are also assessed against the motorist, as well as a fine for ignoring the road closure.

The best approach to traveling in the winter when conditions are difficult is to ask a simple question Is this trip necessary right now, or can it wait till things clear up?

Authorities remind motorists to always anticipate the unexpected in winter driving and to remember that any form of distracted driving, especially in the winter with less-than-perfect conditions, is asking for problems. Drive safely and arrive alive.