To pass or not to pass?

It’s a cold, windy, snowy night driving on the interstate. You’re in a hurry to get home from a long day at work, but you can’t see very well in the snowstorm. Cruising along, you drive up on some flashing lights and realize it’s a snowplow ahead.

As you get closer to the plow, you think, “What should I do? Should I pass, or do I stay behind the plow?” When encountering a snowplow, we have a few safety tips to take into consideration.

First things first, please slow down. When you approach a snowplow, the driver may not be able to see you. Snowplows have many blind spots, and when the plow is in use, they have even more limited visibility. Drivers hit many plow trucks each year, which endangers the drivers of both vehicles and other motorists in the area. Leaving more space between the plow and your vehicle gives the plow driver and you more time to react should you hit ice or another problem. Driving too close behind the plow can also expose your vehicle to de-icing materials. When approaching a plow, slow down and be aware of your surroundings.

In heavy snowfall and icy road conditions, the safest place to drive is behind a snowplow at a safe distance. Too often, drivers pass the plow and end up driving at a slower speed than the plow itself, in turn, slowing everyone down.

Passing at elevated speeds on icy road conditions is risky. If you should pass a plow, do not pass on the right. There is a wing plow that is on the right side of the vehicle, extends up to 10′, and is typically masked by a snow plume that it creates when clearing the roadway of snow. Don’t pass on a corner, in an area with blocked views, or on an icy stretch that you are uncomfortable passing on; this makes a safer environment for you and surrounding motorists.

If you see a snowplow driving towards you from the opposite direction, be courteous. Again, please slow down and drive on the right side of your lane to give the snowplow enough room to do its job. Many state highways are narrow, so snowplows take up a little more space on the single lane as they need to plow the center line.

Let’s remember, plow drivers are working to make the road safer for everyone to drive. Using caution when driving around a plow can save someone from having a bad day, or even save a life. Snowplow drivers are our friends and neighbors; they have families too and want to end each shift safely. They drive in the most treacherous storms to keep roads open and as safe as possible for all of us. Please show them respect, give them the space they need to work, be attentive, and, most of all, drive safe. We want you and our plow drivers to get home safely every day!

Check 511 before you hit the road this weekend

With winter weather bearing down on much of the state, a new and improved version of the 511 Traveler Information System is ready to help with your travel plans.

The improved site, still at 511.idaho.gov, offers an updated look and makes it simpler to find useful information for navigating winter roads statewide. The 511 slogan — “Know B 4 U Go” — is a reminder that it’s best to get road condition information before you get behind the wheel and start your trip. Factoring in conditions along your travel route will help you safely get to your destination and back home again.

511 has several tools to show winter road conditions. Snowplow drivers report into headquarters after they maintain a section of road. That report shows up on a color-coded map of the highway. You can see at a glance where ice, snow or low visibility may be impacting driving conditions. From those color-coded road sections, you can navigate to view more details and access short-term weather forecasts for that section of roadway. If conditions are difficult enough to cause a weather delay for drivers, that will be indicated on the map along with delay details.

Another popular feature on 511 is the roadway cameras. Lousy weather conditions show up as alerts and will flag what weather conditions might make driving hazardous. 511 will also display winter storm warnings. The cameras can be useful for planning highway trips or navigating across cities during busy, snowy rush hours.

511 was used over 5.6M times last year, and usage is expected to increase with the improved website and app. ITD welcomes user feedback, and based on user experience, ITD will continue to modify and improve the site over the next few months.

Are you traveling for the holidays? Before you leave for grandma’s house, check 511.idaho.gov, call by phone at 511 or download the Idaho 511 app. The app is a convenient way to stay connected during your travels and check for delays or road updates along the way. Stay safe and happy holidays!

 

 

How Idaho drivers prepare for winter, even first timers

A sign welcomes drivers to Idaho on Lookout Pass on I-90.

“You should change the speed limit signs when it’s snowing so we know what’s safe.”

That’s what one driver told an officer after she was pulled over on a winter night for going 70 mph on the freeway in black ice conditions.

If you’re not used to driving in the winter, this might seem like a good idea. But in truth, safety is the responsibility of every driver, regardless of the weather. And being prepared for winter driving requires a combination of experience and education.

In Coeur d’Alene, the police department remembers that night as one spent driving from crash scene to crash scene, checking for injuries without even the time to prepare crash reports.

“It seemed like every 100 yards there would be another crash,” said Nick Knoll, an officer on the traffic team at CDA PD.

Since experience only comes with time, many local police departments focus on educational programs to help new winter drivers. Knoll has been with the department since 2002, and since 2016, he has taught winter driving classes for those either looking for a refresher course or an introduction into North Idaho winters.

His class can be summarized in four main points, all of which provide great advice for new winter drivers:

  • Don’t drive during storms if you don’t have to – ask yourself if that trip to the store can wait.
  • Pay attention – winter driving conditions can be unforgiving of even the smallest mistakes.
  • Practice – just like you did in high school, find an empty parking lot and practice.
  • Prepare your vehicle – snow tires are strongly recommended.

“We teach drivers to drive what is safe for their abilities and their vehicles,” Knoll said.

More than 2,000 drivers have taken the course, a two-hour event offered October through November.

“We get about 65 drivers each class,” Knoll said. “Our audience varies in terms of age and gender, but each time roughly 90 percent of the class is about to experience winter driving for the first time.”

According to Knoll, people who take the class are most surprised by the difference snow tires can make. Officers play this video to show the difference, and this year Les Schwab donated ice scrapers to all participants, raffled off two emergency car kits and offered a 10 percent discount on snow tires.

“We get a lot of engagement after class, and drivers tell us we make winter seem less daunting,” Knoll said.

The classes in Coeur d’Alene are free, with multiple sessions held each fall in the evenings and on weekends. Next year call the Coeur d’Alene Police Department at (208) 769-2320 to sign up, or if you would like to teach a similar course, contact Knoll for more information.

Until then, drive for conditions, stay engaged and check the newly improved 511.idaho.gov so you know before you go.

Knoll (far right) with fellow officer recognizing a sober driver.

Before you go, don’t forget to pack your winter car emergency kit

Vehicles traveling in winter conditions

Of the many things that Idahoans know a lot about, one of them is how to be prepared. Prepared for the big game, prepared for the campout, and prepared for the road. Whether you’ve lived in Idaho your whole life or are a new resident, it’s important to do everything you can to prepare for an Idaho winter. As the cold weather sets in, so do winter road conditions.

So how do you prepare for Idaho winter travel? We recommend starting by calling or visiting 511.idaho.gov to check road conditions and alerting friends and family of your travel plans (especially if you are traveling through areas with poor cellular service). Take time to review a map and make sure you know your path of travel as opposed to relying solely on GPS navigation which can occasionally be incorrect. Once you’ve checked those things off your list, ensure you are prepared for whatever comes your way by packing a winter car emergency kit.

Keeping a winter car emergency kit on hand won’t just benefit you, but it could come in handy for others you come across while traveling. Here are some items we recommend you include when building your winter car emergency kit:

  • Flashlight with extra batteries to use as a light source and signal for help.
  • Jumper cables to jump your own vehicle or assist other motorists.
  • Tire pressure gauge to ensure you are driving with the optimum inflation.
  • Cat litter to use as traction on slick surfaces.
  • Small camping shovel to assist with removing snow around tires and tailpipes.
  • LED flares to alert motorists of a broken down vehicle or roadway obstruction.
  • First Aid Kit for minor injuries and emergencies.
  • High protein food and bottled water to keep you hydrated and give you energy should you be stuck for a period of time. If your food items are in cans, make sure you also have necessary items like a can opener and utensils in your kit as well.
  • Winter coats and gear such as hats, gloves, etc. to help keep your body temperature up.
  • Blanket or a small sleeping bag for warmth in freezing conditions.

Some of the items may seem excessive but if you run off the road, breakdown or simply get stranded during an extreme storm, these items will help keep you warm and safe until roadside or emergency services are able to reach you.

For those that already have a winter car emergency kit in a vehicle, make sure you do an annual check of items to ensure they are in good condition and working order – remember, food expires and batteries don’t hold their charge forever. Also, if you do find yourself stuck in the snow, don’t run your vehicle without first ensuring the tailpipe and up to three feet behind your vehicle is free of snow; this, along with opening your windows, will prevent deadly carbon monoxide from building up inside the automobile.

As a parting note, be sure to replace worn windshield wipers, keep gas in your car and have the proper tires on before driving in winter weather conditions. Keeping all of that in mind, you’ll be well on your way to being prepared for an Idaho winter.

Idaho drivers must provide proof of insurance to DMV, or have registration suspended, as new law takes effect in 2020

Drive Insured! Be safe, be smart! Insure your vehicle or lose your registration.

Vehicle owners will need to provide proof of insurance for two consecutive months or risk having their registration suspended beginning in 2020.

The law (Idaho Code Section 49-1234) was passed during the 2019 Idaho legislative session and goes into effect in January. It requires the Idaho Transportation Department’s Division of Motor Vehicles to determine monthly whether the owner of a vehicle has insurance. The law applies only to non-commercial vehicles, and excludes trailers and off-highway vehicles.

A notification letter will be sent to affected vehicle owners to alert them of the law change.

Owners without insurance coverage for two consecutive months will receive a warning and be given 30 days to provide proof of insurance or obtain an exemption before their registration is suspended.

To reinstate a suspended registration, owners will need to provide proof of insurance and pay a fee of $75.

Some vehicles are exempt from this mandate. For a full list of frequently asked questions, please visit itd.idaho.gov/driveidaho