The Big Horn Basin got its first measurable snowfall of the season on Oct. 13, and with it a rash of vehicular accidents; the Park County Sheriff’s Office alone received five crash reports between noon and 3 p.m. that day.
While warmer temperatures have temporarily returned, the brief blast of snow served as a reminder that winter will soon bring its own set of hazards to the table, and that drivers need to take the appropriate precautions to navigate those hazards.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) lists several winter driving tips on its website. Among them are:
• Avoid driving while fatigued. Getting enough rest before driving in winter weather reduces driving risks.
• Don’t warm up a vehicle in a garage, as it can lead to a dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide.
• Make sure your tires are properly inflated.
• Keep your gas tank at least half-full.
• Don’t use cruise control while driving on slippery surfaces.
• Buckle up!
If you’re driving in snowy or icy conditions, drive slowly. Everything takes longer during winter weather. Nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. AAA advises that the normal dry pavement following distance of 3-4 seconds be more than doubled to 8-10 seconds. The increased margin will provide the longer distance needed to stop if it is necessary. Better yet, don’t stop if you can avoid it. There’s a major difference in the amount of momentum it takes to start moving from a full stop as opposed to how much it takes to get moving while still rolling, the AAA says.
If you do get stuck in snow, stay with your vehicle, as it provides shelter and makes it easier to be found by rescuers. Do not try to walk in a winter storm and do not over-exert yourself if you do try to push or dig your vehicle out of the snow.
Slick roads are not the only hazards for drivers during winter. With wintertime temperatures in the Big Horn Basin often dipping below zero, a vehicle breakdown during such weather can also be dangerous. The Wyoming Department of Transportation and other agencies encourage drivers to carry a winter survival kit in their vehicles.
Such kits are easy for drivers to assemble and should include a shovel, windshield scraper and small broom, a flashlight with extra batteries, a battery-powered radio, water, snack foods including energy bars, raisins and mini candy bars, matches and small candles, extra hats, socks and mittens. The kit also should include a first-aid kit and pocket knife, your needed medications, blankets or sleeping bag, a tow chain or rope, road salt, sand or cat litter for traction, booster cables, emergency flares and reflectors, fluorescent distress flag and whistle to attract attention, and a cellphone adapter to plug into the lighter.
Better yet, if the weather is bad enough and you don’t really have to go out, don’t — just stay home.