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Guest Editorial: A survival guide for winter driving

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opinion Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Online
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Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Last week's brutally cold weather followed by black ice conditions this past Sunday should serve as a reminder that driving -- and surviving -- through a Minnesota winter is not to be taken lightly.

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Winter crashes don't happen to "other people." The chances of getting into a crash are greater than you may think. According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS), from 2010 to 2012, there were a total of 68,686 crashes in Minnesota during the winter season (December through February), accounting for 32 percent of the state's total crashes.

In 2012, crashes on snow/icy road surfaces accounted for nearly 10,605 crashes resulting in 28 deaths and 3,081 injuries.

"While winter conditions make driving challenging, these crashes and resulting deaths and injuries can be prevented if we buckle up and drive at safe speeds," says State Patrol Lieutenant Eric Roeske.

In Douglas County this past weekend, there were several crashes and reports of vehicles sliding into ditches. An ongoing problem of tailgating also added to the traffic dangers. Too often, those driving big pickups or SUVs become impatient, riding behind the bumper of drivers of passenger vehicles who are trying to drive cautiously over icy or snow-drifted roads and limited visibility.

The DPS is reminding motorists about important driving skills for winter road conditions and survival items to store in a vehicle in case motorists become stranded during cold weather:

• Buckle up, and make sure child restraints are secured tight enough. It is recommended to have bulky winter coats and blankets on top of the child restraint harness, not beneath, to ensure harness restraints fit properly.

• Drive at safe speeds according to road conditions, and allow plenty of travel time.

• Increase safe stopping distance between vehicles.

• Use extra precaution around snowplows. Keep at least five car-lengths behind plows.

• If skidding, ease foot off the gas and turn the steering wheel in the direction you want the front of the vehicle to go.

• If your vehicle has an anti-lock braking system (ABS), apply a steady firm pressure to the brake pedal. Never pump ABS brakes.

• Clear snow and ice from vehicle windows, hood, headlights, brake lights and directional signals.

• Headlights must be turned on when it is snowing or sleeting.

• Do not use cruise control on snow/icy/wet roads.

• Move over for emergency responders on the shoulder of the road. It's the law.

• Parents of teen drivers should make sure new motorists experience snow and ice driving in a safe environment, such as an empty parking lot.

A winter survival kit should include a scraper/brush, small shovel, jumper cables and a bag of sand or cat litter for tire traction. Blankets, boots, warm clothing, a bright cloth to tie on an antenna or hang in the window to signal for help and flashlights are also important, as are high-energy foods such as chocolate or energy bars.

A little extra preparation, a little more focus on the roads and the conditions can go a long way in surviving whatever winter throws our way.

-- Alexandria Echo Press

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