The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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December 10, 2013

Winter driving dos, don'ts

JOHNSTOWN — It’s inevitable. The only way to avoid it is to crawl into a cave or hide under a bed until it passes.

We’re talking about driving in winter weather.

Anyone who has lived in the Laurel Highlands for any length of time has had to face driving in adverse conditions at some point. It happened this past weekend when, depending upon where you live, you either had to negotiate wet snow (between 9 and 11 inches of the white stuff fell in southeastern Pennsylvania; the Laurel Highlands got several inches), freezing rain or just plain rain.

And whether you’re a veteran driver or a first-timer behind the wheel, the best way to approach driving in winter weather is to use extreme caution.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has issued some recommendations for white-knuckled, sweat-on-the-brow, heart-pounding maneuvering during the winter:

-- If it’s not necessary to be out in severe winter weather, stay home.

-- Always use your seat belt.

-- Allow yourself plenty of time to get to your destination. Careless driving can lead to accidents.

-- Clear snow from your entire vehicle – not just the windshield. This includes your headlights, turn signals, brake lights and license plate. It is against the law to cause traffic and safety hazards such as this.

-- Turn on headlights and flashers as needed, especially during snow squalls when visibility is difficult.

-- Keep your gas tank at least half full, to prevent your fuel line from freezing.

-- Avoid distractions such as cellphones, radios, eating or smoking.

-- Do not use your cruise control.

-- Bridges and and ramps will be the first to become slippery. Be especially cautious when travelling on them.

-- Inspect your windshield wipers and make sure they are in good working order. Also, refresh your windshield-washer fluid with anti-freeze fluids that won’t freeze on your windshield.

-- Make sure your tires are properly inflated and install only tires that are designed for driving on snow and ice.

-- Slow down. Allow more space between you and the guy in front to brake more effectively.

-- Give snowplow drivers plenty of space – some snowplows extend beyond the width of the truck. Also, don’t tailgate a plow truck. Your vehicle could be sprayed with anti-ice or anti-skid material, which could cause your visibility to be hampered.

-- Pay attention to PennDOT information on electronic message boards and tune in to PennDOT’s highway advisory radio channel for road conditions and traffic updates.

We do want to give a thumbs up to the plow drivers – be they PennDOT, city, county or municipality – for keeping our roads clear during this past weekend’s storm. And we thank them for their many hours behind the wheel last year and in previous years to make sure drivers could get to their destinations safely.

Sometimes we gripe and complain when we’re stuck behind a plow truck, or we fuss at the snow that they dump in our freshly shoveled driveways and sidewalks, but where would we be without them? Probably in a ditch or against a guardrail somewhere.

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