Be Safe When Driving During Winter Storms

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Rim Country residents and visitors escaped with their lives this past weekend after another wonderful but potentially dangerous storm. Hopefully their actions will inspire others not to take any chances when a winter storm is approaching or very much present.

We had several incidents where people took on flooded, low-water crossings. We had people who were stuck on the wrong side of a creek and hunters who got lost.

All made it home safely, but several people learned an important lesson. All assumed they would be able to take on the weather -- luckily they made out all right, this time.

One man thought he could ford a low-water crossing but he couldn't. If not for some bystanders witnessing his waning efforts, he may have become a victim.

The water flowing over a low-water crossing does not always appear dangerous, but it doesn't take very much water for a vehicle to be carried away. Four-wheel drive and lots of clearance is no match for rushing water.

The point is: why take a chance?

Is the potential danger of crossing a stream or, in this case, the East Verde River worth the risk?

We have some additional tips for winter driving provided by AAA.

It is important to remember that rain and winter storm conditions can often lead to vehicle crashes. One of the best ways motorists can reduce their chance of getting into an accident is simply to slow down and take their time.

"Arizona drivers are not used to winter weather driving," said Linda Gorman, public affairs manager for AAA Arizona. "On dry roads, you should be at least two seconds behind the car in front of you. In rain and snow, you need two or three times that amount."

AAA Arizona recommends drivers follow these tips for safe driving this winter:

  • Check road conditions before you leave. To check road conditions, motorists can call ADOT's road condition hotline at 511 or visit their Web site at www.az511.com.
  • Be aware of potentially icy areas such as shady spots and bridges.
  • Keep a safe distance of at least five seconds behind other vehicles.
  • Do not over-pack your vehicle. It is more difficult to stop a heavy vehicle in wet weather.
  • Do not engage your vehicle's cruise control. Using cruise control on wet roads or during heavy rain can cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
  • Let someone know your route and when you will arrive at your destination.
  • Pack an emergency car kit that includes at least: flashlight, flares, jumper cables, a little tool kit, cell phone and duct tape for short-term repair of a broken hose (but only to the next service station).
  • Bring extra food, water, clothes and blankets.
  • Do not drive through roads that are flooded or barricaded. Your car could get stuck or start moving sideways in as little as two inches of water. In 1995 the Arizona State Legislature passed a bill called the "Stupid Motorist Law." This allows agencies to collect up to $2,000 for water rescues if drivers purposely drive into flooded areas and get stuck.

In addition, motorists who are traveling to the high country this winter will want to be sure their vehicle is prepared to handle colder temperatures and road conditions. At a minimum, AAA recommends the following:

  • Tires. Check the air pressure and that your spare is properly inflated and in good condition. When the temperature drops, so does tire pressure, so check periodically throughout your trip. Also, check the tread on your tires. As tread wears, tires lose their ability to grip the road's surface.
  • Check your headlights and brake lights. Bad weather creates poor visibility making it difficult to see other drivers, and difficult for other drivers to see you. Make sure your headlights are turned on and working and that both of your taillights are working, as well.
  • Battery. Batteries can lose 35 percent of their power when temperatures fall to 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and lower still when it gets colder. If your battery is weak or older than three years, it is best to have it replaced.
  • Radiator fluid. If you are traveling to a colder climate, it is imperative that you check your protection level. Radiator fluid should be capable of withstanding temperatures of at least 35 degrees below zero.
  • Belts and hoses. Replace any belts or hoses that show any signs of cracking.
  • Oil and filter. Changing your oil and filter every 3,000 miles is the single most critical and least expensive maintenance service you can perform.
  • Wiper blades. Check to ensure wiper blades work properly. You do not want to be caught in a rain or snowstorm when you find out they no longer function properly.

Window washer solvent. Top off windshield washer fluid with a non-freezing solvent if you will be encountering harsh temperatures. Many people fill these with water, but under freezing weather, the water will freeze and may crack the canister.

These are great tips. We would like to advocate using common sense. Don't get yourself into a situation for which you are not prepared. It is a far better fate to take the easy way out and stay safe.

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