Security Corner: Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Every week, Colby Director of Security Bob Williams writes about a security issue that may affect the student population.

Well it’s happened. No matter how much some people hoped it wouldn’t, it did. And like every other time it happened for the first time, it caused havoc. This time was no different.  The first snowfall of the year has arrived. And just like last year when it came for the first time, drivers forgot everything they knew about winter driving. There were numerous vehicles off the road on the interstate and driving was slowed to a snail’s pace on the secondary roads. 

Now I might understand it if all the vehicles off the road were from states that didn’t get snow. But they aren’t. Most of them are from Maine, where we get snow five to six months a year.  Wow, that’s depressing, six months of snow. It’s almost like every spring, everything people learned about winter driving vanishes. Bam, gone. 

For all of you that haven’t driven in the snow before and for those of you that need a little refresher, here are some winter driving tips. 

Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Winter comes every year whether we like it or not, so get ready for it. 

Tires—make sure you have the right tires for winter. At a minimum you should have all-season tires on your vehicle. If you plan on driving a lot in the snow, definitely get snow tires. There is a huge difference between all-season tires and snow tires. Even snow tires have their limitations. Don’t think that because you have snow tires you are invincible. They make getting around better but it doesn’t mean you can be stupid about your driving.    

Vehicle checkup—make sure your vehicle is ready for winter. Check your antifreeze to make sure it is rated for extreme cold. Your windshield washer fluid should be kept topped off with fluid and if possible use the winter washer fluid. Most windshield wipers on vehicles are made for three season driving. Guess what, winter is the fourth season. Winter wipers are made not to freeze up as quick and there is a huge difference between winter wipers and summer wipers. Even with winter wipers, keeping your windshield clear when it is freezing rain out is merely impossible. 

Before you go—have a plan. Make sure you have warm clothes and your cellphone is charged before you leave. Some sand or kitty litter and a shovel is always handy if you get stuck. A couple minutes of shoveling and a little sand could get you out. The alternative is waiting two hours for a wrecker. You can read articles about making an emergency winter travel kit. There are places in the country where you need enough items to sustain yourself for 24 hours or more. Generally speaking, in Maine you aren’t going to get snow bound and have to ration a candy bar for days. You might get stuck in the snow or go off the road and have to wait a few hours before someone comes along to help you so be prepared to stay warm for a few hours. Keep your vehicle’s gas tank filled to at least half full in case you do get stuck.  

Clean all the snow off your car before you drive. It helps your visibility and snow coming off your vehicle can cause a hazard for other drivers. The law in Maine is your windshield has to be clear of snow. This would also include clearing all the frost off your windshield. This would be for all of you that don’t clean your windshield off before you drive to the gym in the morning.  Yeah, I see you. You probably didn’t see me because your windshield was covered with frost. 

Stay home—it never fails. Several times a year during a big storm I would get called to the interstate for a vehicle off the road. The storm would be big enough that most schools were canceled, except for Colby. State government offices would be closed. Everything was closed. I would wade through the waist deep snow to the car to find an elderly person sitting in their car. I would check to see if they were okay and they always were. The conversation would go something like this:

“Where you are you going?”  

“Portland.”  

“What are you doing in Portland?”  

“I’m going to coffee with my friends.”

“You do realize that this is the worst storm of the year and it’s not safe to be out.”

“Yes, but it’s Tuesday and I go to coffee every Tuesday in Portland.”   

The point here is if you do not need to go out, don’t, even if you are only going a few miles. Every vehicle on the road during a storm is a potential hazard. Of course you wouldn’t be the hazard, it’s always the other vehicle. Trust me, it doesn’t matter which vehicle spins into the other vehicle, the outcome is never good. Every year the State Police have five or six cruisers totaled during storms when they get struck by other vehicles. I know firsthand how this feels. The fewer vehicles on the road during a storm the easier and quicker it is for highway departments to clean the roads.

Slow down—it’s the best thing you can do. It is no secret that snow is slippery. It takes longer to stop when it is slippery. The average following distance is three to four seconds. When it is slippery out that should increase to six to eight seconds. It only makes sense it takes longer to slow down and stop. When accelerating you should do so slowly.

Roll on—your tires have to be rolling to gain traction and be able to steer your vehicle. When your tire is locked up and not rolling the vehicle will push in the direction of the momentum. You cannot steer your vehicle when your tires are locked up and not rolling. Most vehicles today have ABS (Antilock Braking System) brakes. This allows the tire to roll when you brake so they do not lock up, allowing you to slow and stop, as well as steer. If you feel your tires lock up, pump the brakes to slow the vehicle down. This will allow you to regain control of your vehicle.

Skidding—things are getting real now. When your vehicle goes into a skid there are many variables to consider. The type of vehicle, front wheel drive, rear wheel drive, all-wheel drive or four wheel drive. The type of skid, wheel spinning or locked up, over or under steering, or fishtailing.  They all are handled a little differently. It is probably better that I refer you to a website that describes how to correct the particular skid you are in based on the variables. I highly recommend searching how to correct various skids on the internet. 

Be seen—use your headlights. During inclement weather always turn on your headlights. It may not provide you any benefit to seeing better, but it allows you to be seen by other vehicles. 

Never say I didn’t know if was slippery. From November through April it is cold and often slippery in Maine. You should continually be checking the road conditions. Road conditions can change every few hundred feet. Spring is no different, maybe even worse. It warms up during the day and the water runs across the road. As the sun goes down and the temperature drops, the snow that melted and ran across the road freezes. One minute you’re cruising along listening to music, and the next minute you’re skidding off the road. 

Here’s the short of it. If you need to go out in a snowstorm, be prepared, and slow and easy does it.