Driving safety professor gives winter driving tips

December 14 2007

When snow is in the forecast and holiday travel on the agenda, drivers need to limit their distractions and stay focused on the road, according to an Indiana State University driver safety expert.

“Too many people treat driving as a secondary activity as they move along the streets and highways,” said Stan Henderson, associate professor of health and safety, and program coordinator for the driver education instructor training program. “When we’re behind the wheel, we need to focus on the task of driving so that we notice when road conditions and traffic change. This will allow us to respond in a safe and appropriate manner.”

According to 2006 Indiana Crash Facts, released last week by the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute’s Traffic Safety Division, 7,350 collisions were caused by a distracted driver, without any other contributing factors, such as alcohol, fatigue or adverse weather.

WINTER WEATHER

Winter weather brings its own unique hazards to the roadway. Snow, ice and severe crosswind accounted for 11,517 collisions in Indiana last year.

When snow is on the ground and you’re headed for your vehicle, Henderson said the first decision to make is whether the trip is necessary.

“People have to go to work and do certain things, but if there are several inches on the ground and they haven’t been out to clear the roadways yet, you need to be very certain that the risk you’re taking is worth it,” he said.

For those who do find themselves traveling in wintry weather, Henderson recommended the following:

• Slow down and give yourself extra time to get to your destination.
• Buckle your seat belt. Wearing a seat belt is the single most effective tool for saving lives and reducing injuries.
• Silence the distractions. Quiet the children, and turn off your cell phone and other electronics that may draw you away from the driving task.
• Use well-traveled roadways that are likely to be clear.
• Give due care when traveling near or around a snow plow.
• Keep your windows as clean as possible. Maintain adequate washer fluid and keep wipes in your car to clear your headlights so you can see and be seen.
• Keep the following winter gear in your car: an ice scraper, a small shovel and kitty litter or sand for traction in case you get stuck; and blankets, energy food, and an emergency flashlight in case you get stranded.

In addition, keeping your gas tank between three-quarters and full is a good idea for two reasons, Henderson said.

“It cuts down on the condensation in the gas tank, and also, if you get stranded, you have a potential heat source,” he said.

Be careful, however, not to be overcome by carbon monoxide, by making sure that your tailpipe isn’t blocked by a snow bank or other obstruction, he said.

HOLIDAY DRIVERS

As the holidays approach, drivers might find themselves dodging snowdrifts while also trying to stay clear of fatigued or intoxicated drivers.

“More than 30 percent of all fatal collisions in Indiana last year were alcohol-related,” Henderson said. “During the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, drivers need to be on guard. Make sure there is a designated driver in your group, and be aware of how others around you are driving on the road.”

Signs that a driver is intoxicated or impaired from illness or fatigue, according to Henderson, include: driving too slow for conditions, weaving in and out of lanes or within their lane, not properly obeying traffic signals or road markings, and not signaling.

There are several options if you find yourself in this situation, Henderson said.

“One option is to back off and keep a good distance between you and the impaired driver. Another is to take the first available alternative route,” he said. “If you feel impelled, you can call 911 and let the officials know that there is somebody driving dangerously on the road.”

TEENAGE DRIVERS

Teenage drivers in Indiana have a difficult time on the road even without the added distractions of weather and crowded mall parking lots.

Crash Facts stated that one in four drivers, aged 16 to 17, were involved in collisions, compared to 5.7 percent of licensed drivers between the ages of 25 and 44.

“Teenagers don’t have as much driving experience under their belt, and therefore need to be even more cautious if they are going to operate a vehicle in snow and ice,” Henderson said.

He recommends younger drivers take a driver education course, even if they already have their license.

“Only about 50 percent of teenage drivers have gone through driver education, so they are missing out on crucial instruction which can help them avoid being a crash statistic,” he said.

Indiana State University will be offering a driver education and safety course for teens starting January 7, 2008. During the course, instructor Joe Mangia will discuss choices that drivers can make to reduce the likelihood of being involved in a collision. He also will make suggestions for parents on how they can assist their teens in practicing good habits.

To register or find out more, contact ISU’s Office of Continuing Education at 812-237-4011 or 800-234-1639. Due to the holiday, registration will be closed from Dec. 24 through Jan. 2, 2008.

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CONTACT: Stan Henderson, ISU associate professor of health and safety, and program coordinator for driver education instructor training program, 812-237-3074 or 812-240-1897 or hshend@indstate.edu

WRITER: Katie Spanuello, media relations assistant director, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or kspanuello@isugw.indstate.edu

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Story Highlights

When snow is in the forecast and holiday travel on the agenda, drivers need to limit their distractions and stay focused on the road, according to Stan Henderson, ISU driver safety expert.

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