Winter Driving: Be Prepared for Snowy Conditions
Do you remember driving through your first white out? Scary, huh? Have you ever been behind the wheel, maybe driving over Poncha Pass when the view out your windshield turned into a swirling vortex of hypnotizing snowflakes that block your vision to the front of your hood? It’s terrifying! No doubt, with today’s snow storm forecasted for many parts of Colorado, you will see more than one side-of-the-road TV interview with a driver’s harrowing tale of surviving their first winter driving adventure in Colorado.
With that in mind, here’s a review of the winter driving laws, regulations and tips that will make traveling a safer and less terrifying trip for everyone.
First, if you’re not already, plug into the Colorado Department of Transportation’s CoTrip.org App. It will save motorists lots of frustration by letting you know when there’s trouble on the roads, particularly Highway 285. While this major throughfare through the SLV doesn’t shut down often (like I-70!), it’s always better to be waiting it out in the safety and warmth of a roadside diner than on the side of the road, an inherently more dangerous situation in white-out conditions as gigantic snowplows maneuver about. So check out the road conditions and closures before you head out and plan accordingly.
Have you replenished your emergency roadside kits? Or perhaps you’re new to the state and are wondering what is an ERK? It doesn’t take much time of money to assemble this kit and place it in each of your vehicles, but the comfort in knowing it’s there as you white knuckle another drive home is worth every granola bar and extra pair of socks!
And finally, for now, know what the rules are and what is required by law to have your vehicle out on the road during a winter storm. Not having the proper tires for winter driving conditions is not only dangerous, but costly as these restrictions are not regularly enforced and ticketed accordingly. You can find those details HERE.
Remember, the Colorado State Patrol is there to help you, not just “pull you over.” Never will you be more grateful to see that stiff-brimmed, mounty-looking hat at your driver’s side window than when than when you’re been stranded on the side of the road in freezing temperatures for hours. They are decent, dedicated men and women; please treat them that way.
To that end, in this post Saguache Today introduces a new columnist: Trooper Gary Cutler with the Colorado State Patrol. Here’s his take from the other side of the badge. Stay safe, travel smart and let Saguache Today know how things are looking on your drive when its appropriate and safe to do so!
I know my readers would never intentionally break the law, or endanger anyone’s life. So this time I wanted to talk to you about the move over law. By the end of the article, I want you to be knowledgeable about the law and then to go have a conversation with someone you know. This could be family, friends, co-workers, or if you’re not the shy type, perhaps a stranger. This is the only way we can get control of injuring or killing officers in the line of duty.
The road has been my office for the past 14 years and as a motorcycle officer for the last 11 years. I can tell you that over those years during traffic contacts there has been more than one time I have had to run out of the way of a car drifting out of its lane heading towards me. None of the times I was almost hit was by someone trying to hit me; they just weren’t paying attention to driving. That means they weren’t able to correctly do the only thing they were supposed to accomplish sitting behind the wheel. I can assure you the officer will be anything but sympathetic when he catches up to the driver that has almost hit him.
A lot of traffic enforcement officers spend a large amount of time standing somewhere on the roadway during their shift. Remember, this is their office. Try to think of it this way, you’re sitting in your office and every day cars speeds by your chair going 65 MPH a foot and a half from you. Oh and by the way, sometimes they may actually hit your chair. If this happened to the average person every day, I guarantee people would be changing their driving habits immediately. They would demand it, because that is absurd behavior to have to put up with every day.
Now you know what it feels like to work the road as a law enforcement officer, let’s look at the move over law itself. It is a law that requires drivers to move over for a patrol car, maintenance vehicle, or tow truck on the shoulder of a roadway with 2 adjacent lanes in the same direction. The law states a driver shall exhibit due care and caution and yield right of way by moving into a lane at least one moving lane apart from the authorized vehicle.
To be able to move over in moderate to heavy traffic requires the driver to be paying attention to what’s happening ahead of them. I’m not talking about just the car in front of you. It requires scanning as far out as you can to know what’s coming up. If you see flashing lights don’t wait to the last minute to move over. Do it as soon as possible, that way you do not have to be right on top of the officer on the shoulder when you’re looking behind you trying to change lanes.
If you are unable to move over due to a large amount of traffic then you are required to significantly slow down. It states the driver shall reduce and maintain a safe speed and proceed with due care and caution. There is no specific speed given, but I can tell you it is not lowering your speed by just 5-10 MPH. Coming from someone that has worked the road, that is not slow enough, and a law enforcement officer will be talking to you.
Please do this for anyone on the side of the road, not just us. And now you know the facts.
As always, safe travels!
Writer and Trooper Gary Cutler is a Public Information Officer for the Colorado State Patrol.