The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), Pennsylvania State Police (PSP), St. Marys Police and Highway Safety Network observed Winter Driving Awareness Week at an event held at the PennDOT stockpile in St. Marys. The safety partners stressed the importance of preparedness in avoiding crashes or becoming stranded during a winter storm.
“Road conditions can change rapidly during a winter storm, so our best advice is to postpone travel in those situations,” said Damon Wagner, Assistant District Executive for Maintenance. “If you’re an essential worker who doesn’t have that option or you must travel for other reasons, make sure your vehicle is up to the task by taking it to a trusted mechanic for winterization and plan to give yourself a little extra time to get to your destination.”
Josh Woods, Community Traffic Safety Project Coordinator with the Highway Safety Network, encouraged motorists to have their vehicle’s brakes, battery, hoses, belts, heater and defroster checked during the winterization process. He also recommended regular checks of fluid levels, windshield wipers, headlights and taillights, tire inflation and tread depth periodically through the winter months.
Woods also encouraged drivers to refill or pack an emergency travel kit for use if they become stranded. He suggested including a flashlight and batteries, jumper cables, first aid supplies, bottled water, and non-perishable food items. Families traveling with newborns or pets might also wish to consider extra formula and pet food.
Trooper Bruce Morris, Community Service Officer for PSP Troop C, reminded drivers the law requires them to activate their headlights any time the vehicle’s windshield wipers are in continuous or intermittent use. Morris also stressed the importance of clearing all snow and ice from a car or truck before driving to provide an unobstructed view for the driver and eliminate the possibility of snow or ice falling onto the roadway and causing a hazard. By law, the driver of a vehicle from which snow or ice is dislodged or falls shall be subject to a fine of up to $1,000 in cases where that snow or ice strikes another vehicle or pedestrian and causes death or serious bodily injury.
Morris reiterated the safest choice is to postpone unnecessary travel during bad weather. If travel is necessary, he urged drivers to slow down and increase following distance, avoid sudden stops and starts, and extra caution on bridges and ramps where ice can often form without warning. He also urged drivers not to use cruise control on snow-covered roads and to use low beams in cases of heavy or blowing snow.
Being safe around snowplows is also part of safe winter driving. PennDOT urged the following when sharing the road:
- Remain at least six car lengths behind an operating plow and be aware the plow is wider than the truck.
- Stay alert since plow trucks typically travel slower than regular traffic.
- Move as far away from the centerline as safely possible when a plow truck travels toward you. Remember that snow can obscure the width of the plow.
- Never attempt to pass or get between trucks plowing side by side in a “plow train.” The weight of the snow thrown from the plow can quickly cause smaller vehicles to lose control, creating a hazard for you, the equipment operators and nearby passenger vehicles.
- Never travel next to a plow truck because there are blind spots where the operator can’t see. Hitting drifts or packed snow can push plow trucks sideways on occasion.
- Keep your lights on to help the operator better see your vehicle. Under Pennsylvania law, vehicle lights must be on when a vehicle’s wipers are on due to inclement weather.
Winter driving awareness week began Sunday and continues through Saturday, January 15.