Fort McCoy News Dec. 11, 2015

Preparation key to safe driving in wintry conditions

BY ART POWELL
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center

Television comedian David Letterman used his "Top 10" list for laughs, but a "Top 10" list of winter-driving hazards isn't funny.

Taking steps to avoid the hazards and ensuring your vehicle is good to go for winter driving doesn't require humor, but instead involves planning and common sense.

"Winter driving is tough on any vehicle and, just as you do when warmer weather arrives, you need to have your vehicle serviced and checked so it's ready for the season," said Walt Beckman, program manager at the Driving Directorate, U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center. "Some items are do-it-yourself things; others need to be performed by a certified mechanic."

To reduce the chance of mechanical problems leaving you in the cold, get your car serviced. Visit a mechanic for a tune-up and other routine maintenance, including an inspection of all hoses and belts, and remain alert for signs of other parts needing repair or replacement.

Once you're on the road, winter-driving hazards will be waiting for you.

William Van Tassel, manager of the American Automobile Association's driver-training programs, pointed to the importance of visibility, speed, and healthy tires.

"Reduced visibility can be a killer, making it harder to see everything going on around your vehicle," he explained. "Next, many drivers fail to reduce their speed, overestimating their tires' traction. Lastly, too many drivers don't realize it takes longer for the vehicle to respond to steering and pedal inputs."

What can a driver do to mitigate the risks associated with these issues?

"First, see and be seen," Van Tassel said. "Keep your headlights on, and clear all snow from your vehicle. Second, adjust your speed down to the corresponding lower traction. Third, do one thing at a time: Brake, then turn, then accelerate. Fourth, be smooth: Drive as if you have a hot cup of coffee in your lap."

When the temperature drops, so does a vehicle's battery power. For gasoline-powered engines, be aware it takes more battery power to start your vehicle in the cold. Electric and hybrid vehicles experience reduced driving range. Whatever you drive, make sure your battery is up to winter challenges.

Other common-sense items to remember when planning include checking your cooling system, filling your windshield-washer reservoir, and checking your windshield wipers. If you can't see where you're going, the best preparations don't matter. Also check that your window defrosters (front and rear) work properly.

The value of preparation pays off big time if it prevents problems on the road, said Van Tassel.

"In winter conditions, one never knows what sort of driving-related emergency could arise," he explained. "In emergency situations, even seemingly small preparations could end up saving a life. That's why it's so important to make sure your vehicle's drivetrain and tires are road ready, and to have a complement of useful items aboard such as flashlights, blankets, food, water, cellphone, shovel, traction mats, and gloves. These and other items could make the difference."

At Fort McCoy and in nearby areas, Installation Safety Office Manager Randy Eddy said personnel should be prepared for a wide range of winter-weather conditions.

"In Wisconsin at this time of year, we can see freezing rain along with snowy road conditions," Eddy said.

"Be aware of the outdoor temperatures and follow local forecasts."

Eddy said a good tool for following road conditions across the state is to use "511" by phone or on the Internet by going to http://www.511wi.gov. "This tool can help you make a smart and safe travel choice," he said.

During any severe winter-weather situation, a liberal-leave policy automatically is in effect for the Fort McCoy workforce (http://www.mccoy.army.mil/Soldiers/SevereWeather.asp). Eddy said the policy helps provide workforce members extra time when heading to work or home.

"The safest thing you can do is slow down and allow extra stopping distance between your vehicle and vehicles ahead of you," Eddy said.

"Also allow for longer stopping distances at intersections. Being prepared, patient, and attentive will help to keep you safe when driving during hazardous road conditions."

For more information on winter-driving safety, visit https://safety.army.mil, or call the Installation Safety Office at 608-388-3403.