2008-10-23 / Local & State

PennDOT Gets Ready For Winter

Depar tment encourages drivers to prepare as well

With fewer daylight hours and the first frost already reported in many parts of the commonwealth, it's only a matter of time before the first winter storm hits Pennsylvania. PennDOT is reminding motorists they should do their part and be prepared for the challenges that winter driving offers, PennDOT Secretary Allen D. Biehler, P.E. said.

"When snow begins to fall, we'll have more than 2,200 PennDOT trucks ready to clear roads across the commonwealth," Biehler said. "We attack storms strategically and, since our primary focus is the major routes, we will occasionally redirect equipment from lower-traffic volume roads to major routes during significant storms."

When equipment is reassigned to help with snow removal on major routes, drivers on secondary roads may experience more accumulation, so drivers need to adjust their driving accordingly.

"PennDOT relies on 'smart-salting' techniques that allow our operators the flexibility to increase or decrease the amount of salt being distributed based on specific road conditions," Biehler said. "We have specific guidelines for how much salt should be used given the type of winter precipitation, the temperature, number of vehicles and a host of other factors. This helps ensure that we're using the correct amount of salt given the specific type of storm."

PennDOT also relies on computerized salt spreaders to distribute the correct amount of salt regardless of the speed of the truck.

Additionally, PennDOT has expanded pre-wetting - wetting the salt with brine (salt water) right be- fore it hits the road surface - to nearly its entire fleet of trucks. Prewetting helps salt work faster and minimizes bounce when it hits the roadway.

PennDOT recommends that drivers start now to prepare for winter driving by making sure that their vehicles are prepared for ice and snow.

"Motorists should have their vehicles serviced now by a mechanic they trust," Biehler said. "A properly trained mechanic can check the cooling system, battery, hoses, drive belts, tires and wiper blades to be sure that they are in good condition and functioning properly."

Motorists should frequently check all fluid levels, the battery, all lights and wiper blades. Tires should also be checked often to be sure they are set to the correct level of air pressure and that they have adequate tire-tread depth to perform on ice and snow.

For the majority of Pennsylvania, all-season radial tires that are mud and snow rated are appropriate for winter driving. In areas of the state that experience more snow, motorists may choose to install dedicated winter tires or carry a set of tire chains or cables.

"Preparation is the key to successfully navigating winter roads," Biehler said. "I can't stress enough the importance of being prepared for unexpected situations that winter weather can cause - that is why all motorists should carry an emergency kit in each vehicle."

PennDOT recommends a few basic items for all emergency kits, such as nonperishable food, water, first-aid supplies, warm clothes, a blanket and small snow shovel. However, motorists should tailor their kits for any specific need they or their families may have. Items such as baby supplies, extra medication, pet supplies, a spare cellphone or even children's games should be included to meet specific needs.

PennDOT reminds owners of four- or all-wheel drive vehicles that although those vehicles are more suited to travel through deep snow, they cannot stop any faster than other vehicles on slippery pavement.

Most importantly, PennDOT urges all motorists to slow down and never drive aggressively on snowy roads. In 2007, there were nearly 8,700 crashes and 67 fatalities on snowy, slushy or ice-covered roadways where aggressive driving behaviors led to the crash. Aggressive driving includes such behaviors as speeding, driving too fast for conditions or making careless lane changes.

"We've all seen it time and time again - drivers who are simply not prepared for winter driving go flying by other cautious drivers and end up spinning out of control and far too frequently those senseless crashes result in stopped traffic," Biehler said. "Unfortunately, when you're stopped in traffic, it's too late to wish that you had packed an emergency kit in the trunk."

PennDOT recommends these safety tips for winter driving:

Keep your gas tank as full as possible.

Under Pennsylvania law, when your wipers are on, your headlights must also be on.

Carry a cellphone.

Use extra caution on bridges and ramps where ice can often form without warning. Beware of roads that may look wet but are actually frozen, often referred to as "black ice."

Do not park or abandon your vehicle on snow emergency routes.

Do not pass or get between trucks plowing in a "plow line," (several trucks plowing side-by-side).

If you do become stranded, do not leave your vehicle, rather keep the down-wind window cracked, run the motor every half hour to warm the vehicle and wait for help to arrive.

Pack an emergency kit.

Remain at least six car lengths behind an operating snow plow.

Do not drink and drive. Always wear your seatbelt.

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