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C.O. seasonal reminders: What you need to know when driving in snowy and icy conditions (besides slow down)

(Update: Adding video, comments by ODOT)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) - During this time of year, frigid temperatures and icy conditions can create driving challenges on the road. This is why it's important to be prepared.

It's harder to control or stop your vehicle on a snow-covered surface, as some people learn the hard, even tragic way. Drivers are urged to make sure to adjust your driving to account for lower traction in when it gets cold and slick. Increasing your following distance is essential, allowing you ample time to come to a stop behind other vehicles.

Many state and local agencies offer winter driving and travel safety tips online, including the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office and the city of Bend.

Deschutes County offers a SkidCar training program that helps drivers practice for inclement driving conditions in a controlled learning environment. According to their website, "The SKIDCAR framework attaches to the suspension of a vehicle to allow the front and rear tires to be lifted or lowered independently with a controller."

“We use the skid car platform, which is a wheeled frame and a hydraulic dolly. It's manufactured in Sweden.” Skid Car Instructor Michael Johnston said in a video on YouTube. “It has four hydraulically controlled wheels that can take away traction from the main tires on the regular car."

You can register for training on the Deschutes County website. Lessons are available to members of the general public for $100. 

Don’t wait until the last minute to get your winter tires on, officials advise. Tire companies get busy as we approach the coldest months of the year, so get them before the snow hits. 

“Have some good tires on -- traction tires. Carry chains if you plan to go over the mountains, and know how to use them." ODOT Region 4 Public Information Officer Kacey Davey said. 

ODOT also recommends keeping some key winter items in your car, such as extra blankets, warm clothes and food. It’s a good idea to keep an ice scraper and snow brush in there as well. 

If you want to check the roads before heading out, the website TripCheck provides updates on current weather conditions. 

“So there's cameras that you can actually look at -- lights, cameras to see what conditions are and plan ahead for what you see.” Davey explained. “So if you see it's going to be snowy on the pass, then make sure you're ready for that."

It's important to steer clear of snow plows, she urged. Passing a snow plow on the right on state highways is illegal and should be avoided.

Coincidentally, ODOT held an event in Portland on Wednesday and issued this news release on winter driving safety:

With winter coming it's time to sharpen your winter driving skills

 Winter is fast approaching and road conditions may be a little worse this year than in years past. Improving our winter driving skills has never been more important. That’s why we partnered with the Pro Drive Racing School to demonstrate to our media partners, and their viewers, readers, and listeners, how we can all drive smarter and safer when snow and ice hit. 

Today at the Portland International Raceway, ODOT and the Pro Drive Racing School used a skid car, a vehicle that can emulate dangerous driving conditions, to demonstrate essential skills for navigating snowy and icy conditions.  

Todd Harris, president of the Pro Drive Racing School, led the skid car participants. Todd says "The most common mistake drivers make is overestimating their vehicles capabilities and their own driving skills. Just notice how many nice four-wheel drive SUVs are crashed during the next snowstorm."

Todd showed how to avoid crashes and demonstrated best driving practices in emergencies and bad weather. He reviewed braking techniques, how to control skids, how best to drive in rain, snow, and ice and how to understand the limitations of your vehicle. 

Check out these Winter Driving messages

This year, with costs increasing, and fuels tax revenues trending down, we are forced to scale back maintenance and services around the state. We won’t be able to clear roads during winter storms as quickly as in the past. There may be more snow and ice buildup, more chain requirements and longer delays and more frequent road closures.

This change in average road conditions means we could all use a little sharpening of our winter driving skills.

 If you have to head out in the snow or ice, here are some things to keep in mind: 

  • Make sure your vehicle is in good operating condition, with clean headlights, good brakes, working windshield wipers and good tires.  
  • Slow down when approaching off-ramps, bridges or shady spots. Snow and ice may linger there longer. 
  • Check your route before leaving –not just your destination but conditions along the way. 
  • Never pass a snowplow or any winter maintenance truck on the right. It’s illegal and you may run into the wing plow that sticks way out on the right.  
  • Allow extra stopping distance. There’s less traction on slick, snowy roads. 
  • In bad visibility—heavy fog or snow flurries – being able to see is as important as being seen. Turn on your headlights to increase your visibility to others.  
  • Carry chains and know how to use them. 
  • If you’re tired, don’t fight it. Get a room if you can, wait out the storm and finish your trip when you’re refreshed. You may save a life. 
  • Slow down and allow extra time to get where you’re going.  

It doesn’t work for everyone, but stay off the roads if possible. That leaves more room for those who must travel to travel safely and for our trucks to clear the road. Take a snow day. 

Article Topic Follows: Central Oregon

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Jillian Fortner

Jillian Fortner is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Jillian here.


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