Winter driving can be hazardous, but area officials are ready with a few tips on how to stay safe while on the roads and the dangers to look out for.
Monroe County Sheriff Scott Perkins said the first thing a driver should do is slow down.
“I’d tell everybody to look four to eight seconds ahead, not just right ahead of you because then you can see obstacles you’re approaching so you can expect it and start braking early,” he said. “The faster you’re going, the further ahead you should look. If you’re doing 60 mph, you should look like eight seconds, compared to when going 25 mph, where you should look four seconds ahead. It works really well. That’s how I operate, what I try to do.”
Lt. Ron Waddell of the Tomah Police Department suggests that drivers give themselves more time to get somewhere.
“What time allotment might be in summer is not the same for winter driving,” he said. “Never be in a hurry; always plan on extra time to get to your destination.”
“People think if they have a four-wheel-drive vehicle they can go highway speeds, which is not true,” he said. “Slow down, watch the weather, and being a few minutes late is better than not getting there at all.”
Drivers should also be defensive, Perkins said, and be aware of how others are driving.
“Not only are you driving, but the next person, who knows how they’re driving, so drive defensively, drive for winter weather,” he said. “I can’t emphasize enough — slow down and watch your braking.”
Jackson County highway commissioner Jay Borek suggests that drivers be careful of snow removal vehicles.
“They should be very cautious because a plow driver has limited visibility and may not see the person come up behind them, so they should be very careful around machinery,” he said.
He said vehicles are required to remain 200 feet behind some machines but that a longer following distance is often appropriate. Drivers should read the road, he said.
“If you have traffic around you throwing salt spray off their tires … if you’re out in the cold conditions and the road looks shiny and no salt coming off the tires, most times it’s probably ice, so you need to learn how to read the road,” he said.
Perkins suggests that “drivers should look out for snow drifts on ridge tops. They may look like complex snow drifts, but could be 3-4 feet of snow. Then obviously the black ice … where the asphalt looks wet but is actually ice. That all of a sudden pops up and you don’t realize it until you’re on it. So be very cognizant of black ice.”
Also, Perkins said drivers should listen to the weather service.
“If the weather service suggests you stay home, unless it’s an emergency, stay home,” he said. “Give the highway department a chance to plow.”
Finally, keep up with vehicle maintenance, Waddell said.
“People fail to keep vehicles in tip-top shape,” he said. “When we drop (temperature) you might not notice when a tire’s losing air. You expect normal equipment familiarization, you shouldn’t expect it to handle the same if the tire is low, it handles different. So stay up on vehicle maintenance ... make sure tires stay inflated and make sure brakes are working properly.”
Be an aware driver, Waddell urges.
“You’re sharing the road with everybody else, so you have to be aware of how your driving affects them,” he said. “Be a responsible user of our Wisconsin roadways.”