Class offers driving advice

by Jason Juno

The season of driving your car through blustery white weather and overly icy roads is nearing.

With the return of the annual challenge to drive through winter conditions that can cause havoc to roadways, University Fleet Services will offer advice for surviving the driving conditions without an accident. The class will take place today and Nov. 29.

It is designed for those who are new to winter driving experiences, as well as locals wishing for a helpful refresher, said Fleet Services maintenance manager Tony Bittner.

Accidents tend to increase drastically during the winter months, said Alan Rogers, research analyst in the Office of Traffic Safety in the University Department of Public Safety.

On average, there are 243 vehicle accidents every day in Minnesota. Data shows that number increases dramatically during winter months, particularly months with heavy snowfall.

In February 2001, plenty of snow fell in Minnesota, and there were 10,365 accidents, with 24 fatalities – compared to July 2001, when there were nearly half as many accidents, 57 fatalities were reported.

Authorities said that they believe higher fatality rates happen during summer because people drive faster and more drivers are filling roadways.

“When you crash at a high speed, that’s when you die,” Rogers said.

Drivers should drive slower and increase the space between their cars and those in front of them, Bittner said.

The first snow can be particularly tough for people, Bittner said.

“That first snowfall, it’s like everybody has to relearn their driving habits all over again,” Bittner said.

MnDOT plows

Helping to improve driving conditions, the Minnesota Department of Transportation plows metro area highways every time it snows.

Jeanne Aamodt, transportation program supervisor in MnDOT’s Office of Communications, said the department believes there were not enough plows on the roads last year.

The department tried to save on overtime costs, she said.

Aamodt said MnDOT drivers will split two eight-hour shifts and the possibility of four hours of overtime. Last year, drivers worked eight-hour shifts and did not work overtime hours.

Bittner said MnDOT applies chemicals before it snows and is out during snowfall, but heavy snow is impossible to keep up with.

What to avoid

Sudden movements on icy roads that aren’t cleared can cause vehicles to lose control, Bittner said.

“Everything you do in slippery conditions needs to be calculated, smooth and slow,” Bittner said. “You can’t expect to make quick corrections in snow the same way you can on dry pavement.”

Vehicles cannot stop quickly on ice, and sometimes, it’s better to just avoid roads when they are in a poor condition, he said.

“If you do have to get out, use public transportation. Let a professional driver take you where you need to go,” Bittner said.

More tips

Bittner said people should wear clean clothing, dress in layers and stay dry. It also helps to avoid sweating that can later freeze, he said.

For many more tips, the hands-on class will be held today at 1 p.m. and again on Nov. 29. Call Bittner at (612) 625-7817 to reserve a spot.