Key to avoiding winter driving dangers: ‘Gradual’

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — You see police at crash scenes, but they’re rarely involved in the collisions even though they have to drive in the bad conditions they tell you to avoid.

The tools they use to stay safe could help you on the roads.

“Winter driving is all about grip and not losing your grip,” Kent County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Joel Roon told 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday, the same day multicar crashes cropped up all over West Michigan highways amid blowing lake-effect snow.

When it comes to avoiding crashes, deputies rely on their training. One of their keywords: gradual.

“Gradual acceleration, braking and steering,” Roon explained. “If you give yourself an increased following distance, give yourself extra cushion to slow down, it allows you the ability to now give gradual steering input. You’re not going to panic and jerk the wheel. You’re not going to slam on the brakes because you don’t need to. You have that extra cushion.”

He also said you shouldn’t be in such a hurry to get where you’re going, especially in poor road conditions.

Roon crunched the numbers to show increased speed is not going to get you from point A to point B much faster than a driver who eases back on the gas pedal when it’s nasty outside:

  • Traveling 15 miles at 60mph takes 15 minutes;
  • 15 miles at 55mph takes 16 minutes;
  • 15 miles at 50mph takes 18 minutes;
  • 15 miles at 45mph takes 20 minutes.

“We really need to ask ourselves what we are trying to achieve for those five minutes. You think of all the things that can happen in five minutes, my point is it’s just not worth it,” Roon said.


But what if you do find yourself in a crash? You’re OK, but your car is off the road. Snow has packed your tailpipe, choking out the engine.

Dozens of other drivers could be in the same, if not a worse, predicament.   

“If you find yourself in the median on a day like today, the wait times for a wrecker or for anyone stopping to help can be significant,” Roon said.

That means you need to be prepared. First, officials say, stay in your vehicle.

“Do not get out of your car, especially if you’re in a dangerous location,” said Jennifer Hoekstra with Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “If you just slipped off the road, the likelihood that someone else is after you is very high.”

You’re safer inside the car than out.

As for what you need to carry, you may already know the essentials: food and water, blankets, and a heavy coat. Mittens will keep you warmer than gloves. Good boots are especially important if you’re forced to get out of your vehicle.

“If you need to trek it out of there and you’ve got cold and even frostbitten feet, those are your main tool to get out of there if no one else is coming,” Roon said.

A first aid kit is important and you should include any prescriptions you’re on.

“If you find yourself waiting (and( it comes to be med time, we want you to have those meds on hand,” Roon said.

>>Online: AAA winter car care tips (pdf)

Staying in the car, even if there’s no heat, will protect you from frostbite and other cold-related issues for hours. But the longer you have to wait, the longer the chances you may run into trouble.

“If you find yourself getting lethargic, you find yourself getting tired, it’s important to stay awake,” Hoekstra said. “Your body will stay warmer if you’re moving, if you’re thinking good thoughts of energy.”

If you fall asleep, your temperature is going to get lower more quickly. Hoekstra says the key is to keep moving.

“Maybe a little dance, sing a song. Keep your body moving the best that you can,” she said.

Roon also said that you should keep your cellphone in your pocket. If the vehicle spins and the phone goes flying, you may waste valuable time and energy trying to find it.



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