For Release February 25, 2003

Driving Safely Requires Thinking Safely

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

I guess I was one week late in getting out my late winter driving safety column! After a week of springy weather, Iím sure the return of winter caught a few folks off guard. Late winter is a sneaky time of year in the Great Plains. We can have a severe thunderstorm watch on day and a blizzard warning the next. In fact, this weekendís storm should really drive home the point that we are still in winter. March is the month of spring breaks and a lot of families will be on the road. Even clear into the first part of April, we need to be prepared for winter storms. Now is a good time to go down a mental checklist of whatís required for safe winter driving.

First of all, stay on top of the weather. In this day of cable and satellite television and Internet radio stations, it is easy to become detached from your local environment. Reattach to that local environment and know whatís going on. This should carry from right now on through the peak of severe thunderstorm season. We have good local weather radio reception now. Buy yourself a weather radio and keep one at work and at home. Then listen to at least one local news and weather broadcast every day from a local radio station.

If you spend a lot of time at your computer at work, bookmark the National Weather Service home page. In fact, you can set your county forecast to be your home page every time you open your web browser. You can even subscribe to weather alert e-mail services, so that if a weather alert is issued for your county, you receive an e-mail. There really is no excuse to be out of touch with your local weather.

If wintery weather, or any severe weather, is on itís way or happening remember these three simple things: stay put, slow down, spread out. If there is adverse weather occurring, the safest thing is to stay put. In this day of hustle and bustle it is hard to tell the family that they are going to miss this or that event. But as quickly as roads can become bad, itís often best to stay home. You may be able to negotiate the roads okay, but what about the car ahead of you, behind you or coming straight at you? If you stay home, thatís one less target on the road!

If you are out on the road, slow down. These days of front wheel drive and 4-wheel drive have given rise to a whole new level of false security. It doesnít matter if you have front wheel drive, rear wheel drive or 4-wheel drive, if the roadway becomes slick you will have less control of your vehicle. Anything you try to do quickly is likely to lead to disaster. Slow down to where you think you are going too slow, and you may be driving about the right speed for the conditions. And always have your headlights on in any kind of bad weather.

Finally, spread out. Allow more room between you and everyone else. Most drivers follow too closely under good conditions. Bad conditions just make it worse. Double or triple the distance between you and the car ahead of you. Always have an escape route in case any car around you loses control. Donít assume that vehicles approaching from other directions are going to be able to stop. Think ahead and be prepared. Your safety, the safety or others in your car and the safety of those on the road around you, depend on you!

Then, because the severe thunderstorm season will be here before you know it, plan to attend the severe storm spotter training next Monday, March 3 at the 4-H/Sr. Citizens Building starting at 7:00 p.m. This is always a good training, I go every year. The program is open to the public and I would encourage everyone to attend!


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