Over the river and through the woods; preparing for a safe winter journey on Utah’s roads

Stock image by filmfoto/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

FEATURE — Southwest Utah’s weather is as diverse as its scenery. Winter storms come on quickly. Travelers heading north on Interstate 15 from Washington County under sunny skies can soon find themselves encountering slick, treacherous roads as they ascend the Black Ridge and enter Iron County.

Stock image by Daisy-Daisy/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

With cold weather comes the hazards of winter driving, including icy roads and reduced visibility from fog, wind, rain and snow. Preparing and planning can make the difference between an inconvenience and a true emergency.

Know your vehicle

Not everyone is a “car person,” but you can take the time to learn about any special features your vehicle may have to help while driving in a snowstorm or on slick roads. Some car owner’s manuals suggest not having your car on cruise control during any storm event, since reaction time is quicker when you have manual control of your vehicle. Anti-lock brakes and high-tech features like traction control are no substitute for safe stopping distances and reasonable speeds.

Watch the weather

One way to reduce risk in winter is to plan trips in relatively good weather. Be alert and stay up to date on changing weather and traffic reports in order to anticipate and avoid hazardous conditions. Smartphones make monitoring the weather even easier with real-time updates; just be sure not to check while driving.

Utah’s top causes of motor vehicle traffic crash deaths in 2017*:

  • Speed – 40%.
  • Unrestrained occupants – 30%.
  • Bad weather – 14%.
  • Drunk driving – 13%.
  • Failing to yield – 11%.
  • Distracted driving – 7%.

*Some crashes had multiple causes.

Slow down

A little caution can make a lot of difference when roads are slick. Slowing down by at least 5 miles per hour below the normal speed and keeping more car lengths between vehicles will give everyone more time for any sudden stops. There is no obligation to keep up with high speed limits on freeways when road conditions are bad.

Be patient with other drivers; even take time out when frustrated. Getting anywhere safer is better than faster.

Get your vehicles ready for winter

Stock image by Choreograph/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

It’s a good idea to keep your tires at proper inflation. During winter months in Utah, some roads will have rules posted which require additional traction including four-wheel drive, snow tires or chains.

Make sure your vehicle has been properly serviced and fluid levels are full, especially antifreeze and windshield washer fluid. It’s a good idea to secure an extra jug of washer fluid in your trunk, since you’ll likely use more while driving on wet, dirty roads.

Before driving, remove any troublesome ice from the windshield and windows, along with piled snow from the hood and cabin top, in order to prevent problems with visibility. Always keep your gas tank at least half full.

Have a winter emergency kit in your car

In the event you have to pull over or find yourself broken down during winter weather, be prepared with a winter emergency kit. Recommended items include an ice scraper, a flashlight and batteries (stored separately), hand warmers, blankets, drinking water, high-calorie food bars, a shovel, jumper cables, a whistle, first-aid kit and stand-alone emergency lights or flares. You can add sanitary supplies and extra clothes, including cold-weather outdoor wear, and make sure to consider extra supplies for others traveling with you.

Written by PAULETTE VALENTINE, Southwest Utah Public Health Department Emergency Preparedness & Response Division Director.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of HEALTH Magazine.

Copyright © Southwest Utah Public Health Foundation, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!