a lmost everyone who has spent a few winters in the Colorado high country knows the gut-ripping fear of clutching the steering wheel and watching as everything shifts into slow motion as you slide off the road and into the ditch.
Colorado winter driving is treacherous, especially in mountain towns such as Eagle and Gypsum. The weather and driving conditions can change in a split second.
According to Eagle County Sheriff’s Deputy Bob Silva, following a few winter driving tips can make the literal difference between life and death. First and foremost, Silva said motorists should make sure their vehicles are operating correctly before they take to the road.
“Make sure you have no obstructed views and good tires,” said Silva. That means taking the time to let the defroster do its work or fully scraping ice off windows before getting behind the wheel.
Bill Edgar, lead instructor at In & Out Driving School, emphasized knowing your vehicle.
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“On newer cars, allow the traction control to operate correctly – don’t fight it,” said Edgar. “By letting off the brakes and/or accelerator, the vehicle will in most cases correct itself to travel straight.”
Another seemingly obvious mistake that people make is simply not watching the road.
“I’ve seen this a lot,” said Silva.
He said drivers need to keep eyes on the roadway because if they are looking at wildlife or something else, other than the road, they often end up where they were looking. That’s especially the case on icy or wet roads.
“For example, if you’re traveling around a corner and the vehicle starts to slide, if you look at the shoulder, the vehicle often times ends up right where you were looking,” said Silva.
Instead, Silva says to let off the brake to allow the tires to turn, gaining traction, look and drive along the roadway as if you were not sliding.
Four wheels, no guarantees
How many times have you seen a big truck slide off the road? Four-wheel-drive does not allow the vehicle to stop any more quickly, especially when motorists hit those tricky patches in Eagle County.
We’ve all been taken by surprise by one or more of these little beauties. You’re driving along on dry roads, and all of a sudden you slide on random patch of ice. Here are a few of those local problem areas:
Mile Marker (MM) 145 between Costco and Gypsum: Why? Deer crossings, a road contour, and ice created by shade.
MM 147 thru 148.5 west of Eagle: Why? Deer crossings, a road contour, and ice created by shade.
MM 150 east of Eagle: Why? A road contour and ice created by shade.
MM 146 between Eagle and Wolcott: Why? A road contour and ice created by shade.
MM 167 between Edwards and Arrowhead: Why? A road contour and ice created by shade.
Between MM 167 and 169 near Arrowhead: Why? Elk crossings.
MM 169 between Arrowhead and Avon: Why? A road contour and ice created by shade.
Approaching the scene of an accident can happen in any type of weather, but it occurs more frequently when road conditions are less-than-ideal.
If you see road flares or emergency lights, slow down. Merge to the opposite side of emergency vehicles as there may be emergency responders in or around the roadway.
There are several training courses that locals can attend if they want to enhance their winter driving skills.
The Bridgestone Winter Driving School is a popular course for Eagle County firefighters, EMS, and law enforcement personnel. For more information, visit http://winterdrive.com/.
Always remember the weather and weather conditions are fluid. They change quickly and often times without warning.
“Keep your heads up, eyes on the roadway, keep outside distractions (phones, children, etc.) to a minimum, keep the tires turning (for traction), slow down and increase distance from other vehicles and you should make it where you are going safely,” said Silva.