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home : opinion : editorial August 28, 2014

11/14/2012 8:28:00 AM
Prepping for winter
Joel Alvstad
Sports Editor

"Winter is not a season, it's an occupation."
- Sinclair Lewis
Like it or not, we are at the doorstep of winter and - more importantly - the state's most hazardous driving season.
In some parts of Minnesota, it has already arrived. On Veteran's Day, less than 24 hours after the end of Minnesota's Winter Hazard Awareness Week (Nov. 5-9), the state saw its first 50-crash day.
It didn't take much - a quarter-inch snowfall, compaction by rush hour traffic, slight melting, followed by refreezing. That was the recipe for what transportation experts call a "flash freeze."
Countless Twin Cities motorists were caught by surprise. The result was 50-plus crashes, numerous other spinouts and traffic that slowed to a crawl.
Of course some Twin Cities news outlets overplayed the story, treating this like a major event. Still, it serves as a reminder that road conditions can change in a heartbeat. We all need to be ready for it.
Now is the time for area families to sit down with new young drivers and have that talk about possible changing conditions and speeds on wintery roads. Each winter, we see stories about tragedies that involved inexperienced drivers and icy conditions. Hopefully, a little advice or a reminder could help avoid such a tragedy locally.
Packing winter gear
Each year, hundreds of Minnesotans find themselves stranded along the roadside.
This is a good time to pack the backseat and trunk with the usual winter gear:
• A three-pound coffee can with candle stubs and matches which can be used to melt snow for additional drinking water.
• A metal or plastic cup.
• A red bandana and a plastic whistle to alert rescuers of your location.
• Pencil and paper.
• A first aid kit, including any essential medications.
• A plastic flashlight with spare batteries (reverse batteries to avoid accidental switching and burnout and replace batteries yearly).
• Two large plastic garbage bags, safety pins, (bags are for insulation for feet, safety pins keep the bags together).
• Snack foods for energy, such as candy bars.
• Gloves, mittens, winter boots, a blanket, toolbox, jumper cables, shovel, tow cable and reflectors or flares.
Using 911
A cell phone is a valuable tool for drivers who witness, or are involved in, emergency situations.
Cell phone users on the road must provide dispatchers with specific information about the emergency.
Cellular 911 calls are routed to public safety answering points operated by state or local agencies. Although newer cell phones now provide approximate location or have GPS and callback numbers when 911 is dialed, an exact location may need to be provided by the caller.
511 information system
The 511 Phone Information System provides road safety information 24 hours per day.
Landline and cell phone users can call 511 for regional and statewide reports on traffic congestion, road and weather conditions, construction work and other obstacles.
The 511 web site features both a dial-up/static site and a high-speed Internet/Google map site with real-time updates. There is now also a 3G/smart phone site with the same information as the full featured site.
Snowplow safety
And, while the forecast shows no sign of snow in the near future, we all know that forecasts can change quickly. Before we know it, motorists could be sharing the road with snow plows.
It's a good idea for everyone in your family to be well versed on snowplow safety.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation's snowplow operators are trained, experienced and prepared to assist motorists through another winter season.
Last year in Minnesota, there were 72 crashes involving vehicles that hit snowplows. This is typically caused by inattentive drivers, motorists driving too close to the plow or motorists driving too fast for conditions.
Operators have much to monitor and control, and their ability to see behind them is limited by side mirrors. Their vision can also be hampered by the snow clouds they create while plowing.
Although many Minnesotans dread winter's arrival, we all need to be aware that challenging road conditions can hit at any time. Many of us have already pulled the snow blower out of storage.
This is also a good time to get ready for winter driving as well.
- Rahn Larson

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