Winter driving requires vigilance, preparation

By Jaymie Depew, contributing writer

When driving in the winter months, it’s easy to forget that road conditions may not be ideal and that even hidden hazards do exist. With this in mind, there are several things Northern students should consider while driving through different weather conditions to maintain their safety and the safety of others. One of the most proactive ways to ensure that your driving will be safe is to give yourself enough time to get carefully to your destination, especially while commuting. Brooke Davis, a sophomore nursing major, commutes daily from L’Anse to Marquette, which is an hour and twenty minute drive in good weather.

Driving in winter conditions can be tough for those who are unfamiliar with the necessary skills, preparation and subsequent action required should there be an emergency or accident.

“I always watch the news the night before and in the morning to decide what time I need to leave for class,” Davis said. “If I know the roads will be bad, I’ll leave at 7 a.m. just to be sure. It’s also essential to have a dependable and well-maintained vehicle in the winter. According to Lt. Don Peterman of Public Safety’s Crime Prevention unit, it only takes a quarter of an inch of snow for cars to lose control if the driver isn’t cautious. He suggests reliable snow tires for your vehicle, and also asserts that clear windows and visible headlights are the key to driving safe. “You need clean headlights so you can see and be seen by other drivers,” Peterman said.  Most new vehicles have automatic headlights, so it’s important for vehicle owners who do not to remember to turn them on while driving in the winter, even if it’s during the day.” According to Peterman, larger vehicles, such as trucks and SUVs, have the highest rollover rates. For high-wind and icy days, it’s significant that owners of these vehicles have weights in the back of them, helping to maintain the stability of the vehicle. Additionally, with a large amount of students and faculty who bike on campus during the winter months, Peterman asserted that drivers should keep in mind that bicyclists need enough room to avoid any possible collisions. Peterman also warned against unseen dangers, which can creep up when conditions seem mild but are in fact ideal for the formation of black ice. “With the nicer weather we’ve had lately, people forget that even when it’s 40 degrees out, black ice can still form on the roads,” Peterman said. For the many drivers who panic if their vehicle hits a piece of ice and begins to skid, Peterman advises that you take your foot off both the brake and gas, and steer the direction that your vehicle is going, while also making sure not to over steer. Perhaps the best measure to take prior to driving in winter conditions is to plan ahead in case of an accident, according to Peterman. A few items drivers should have available in the case of an accident would be a snow shovel, salt or cat litter, warm clothes, water and a cell phone. It’s especially important for drivers to carry a phone in case of emergencies, especially when off-campus. Having friends and tow truck numbers stored, in case your vehicle gets stuck, is also another way to plan ahead. Peterman said that if students are involved in an accident on campus, Northern’s Motorist Assistance Program (MAP) helps assist drivers if they run into a problem such as a flat tire, a locked vehicle or getting stuck in the ditch, among other things. For more information, call (906) 227-2151. For emergencies only, including any injuries, call 911.