First Tracks – Teens and Winter Driving

Teen Driving Distracted

It’s a weekend tradition for many Idaho families – heading up to snowy mountains to ski or board together. Parents often put quite a bit of time, lessons and teaching moments into making sure their kids have fun and learn safety on the hill.

In the same way, learning to drive in winter weather can be a challenge, and teens have a few extra obstacles to overcome as brand new drivers. Just like ski lessons, teens need a little help to be prepared and safe on winter roads.

Emily Kormylo, Idaho’s Driver Education Coordinator, says winter is a popular time for parents to enroll their teen in drivers ed. Parents hope the winter conditions will help their teens learn driving skills in challenging situations that can help them year-round. And for a good reason —  teen drivers have a higher rate of fatal crashes, mainly because of their lack of experience. They speed, they make mistakes, and they get distracted easily – especially if their friends are in the car. (as reported by NHTSA)

How can you – as a parent – help?

Practice

In addition to enrolling your teen in drivers ed, help your teen practice their winter driving skills. Go to a parking lot to practice on ice, in low-visibility and snowy conditions. Talk about road conditions they may encounter even in early spring – like icy corners on rural highways or obscured lane lines when snow piles up. Make sure your car is winter-ready and check road conditions at 511.idaho.gov before any road trip.

Leave early and slow down

For most teens, mornings are not their favorite time of day. But rushing around and running late can make driving on slick roads even more stressful.

Speed is a significant factor in winter crashes. One out of every five crashes in Idaho involves a youthful driver. Younger drivers, especially teens, also showed more risk of contributing factors in crashes like speeding, inattention and tailgating.

While the message is simple, slowing down and buckling up are simple ways teens can stay safe on the roads.

Minimize Distractions

We know teens are more susceptible to distractions behind the wheel, especially if friends are in the car. Distractions could include:

  • Texting or talking on the phone
  • Eating
  • Loud music or conversations with friends

Encourage your teen to be an engaged driver, in the moment, focused on the road.

Be the Driver You Want Them to Be

Parents, sometimes what you say isn’t nearly as loud as what you do. Especially when it comes to what you do in the car. Be an engaged driver. Slow down in inclement weather. Wear your seat belt and put down the phone. Your kids and teens are watching you for good driving habits.

Visit Shift-idaho.org/idahoready for winter driving tips, including info on winter emergency kits and pointers for new-to-snow drivers.

Road Closed…What?!

You planned a fun ski trip for the last 3 months across the other side of the state. You get ready to head out the door and check the weather for your route. You’re expecting snow but as of right now roads look fine. You have a 5 plus hour drive to get to the ski resort if all goes well. It’s 4 pm on a Thursday and you start your journey east to the mountains, if all goes well you’ll be there by 9 pm. A few hours into your drive the weather takes a little turn, the snow is coming down a little heavier, temperatures start to drop and the wind is now beginning to blow pretty hard. You start driving a little slower and about 70 miles from the ski resort your travels have now become white knuckle driving.

Only 55 miles left to go, you are a little edgy and just want to get to the resort and off the icy roads. You start on one of the local highways headed East to the mountain and about 45 minutes from the resort you drive up to a road closure on the highway. Saying some choice words at this point and thinking you can make it because you’re so close you stop behind a semi waiting the storm out at the block. You step out and realize its dang cold and windy, so you get back in your car and bundle up to stay warm. You get back out of your car and walk up to the gentleman sitting at the road block.

Dying to drive past the road block and get to the resort you ask him the infamous question…why is the road closed? The man tells him it is very low visibility, the 5 foot snow drifts are completely across the road and the crews cannot keep up with them as the wind is already at 45 mph. A little upset, you now follow-up with another question…when will the road be open? Can I just drive through, I’m sure I can make it?!

Of course the answer will always change as to when a road will be open as that is completely on a situational basis but the man tells you it will be open as soon as the weather cooperates and they can break though so maybe tomorrow night. He also proceeds to say that you cannot drive through the road block. Quite upset at this point because this totally messed up your weekend ski trip, you turn around and decide to stay in a hotel nearby to wait out the storm in hopes the road will open soon. Instead of driving passed the road block you make a wise choice to wait it out.

Has this scenario ever happened to you before where you drove up to a road closure due to the weather? If you live in Idaho, it most likely has happened to quite a few of you. It’s frustrating, it’s inconvenient and trust us when we say we totally understand!

Many travelers wonder why we close roads during the winter weather season…There’s many reasons actually! In severe weather road conditions our number 1 reason is low-visibility. ITD crews make numerous passes on our roadways and if they cannot see well they determine it is unsafe for motorists. Secondly, if the wind is blowing too hard then the snow drifts become uncontrollable. Once the snow drifts become unmanageable and the crews cannot keep up with them, this is also an indicator to close a road.  Some other reasons would be severe black ice on the roadways and heavy snowfall that is impassable. Also, in the mountain passes typically the road might be closed due to avalanches.

When crews close a road, it is closed for a good reason…to keep motorists safe! ITD and ISP do not like to close roads due to the weather, we would prefer keep roads open to keep traffic flowing but that is not the case all of the time. Here’s some food for thought…when coming up to a road block and you get the urge to drive past it and continue on know that per Idaho Code 19-623 it is up to a $300 fine, a possible misdemeanor and possible imprisonment in county jail.

So when you drive up to a road block next time, we recommend to simply turn back and stay in a safe place until the road becomes open again. Our #1 goal is safety for the travelling public and ourselves!

Roads will only close for you and your family’s safety and we want to create the safest travel possible. Be sure to drive for the conditions, plan ahead, be prepared, stay engaged, and visit 511.idaho.gov before you go for current road updates. Dont forget to check out ITD’s road closure video!

ITD partners with Leighton Vander Esch on seat belt safety

Buckle Up, Idaho campaign kick off with Leighton Vander Esch

 
BOISE—The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) is partnering with Idaho native and Dallas Cowboys’ linebacker Leighton Vander Esch to remind Idahoans to buckle up.

Brought to life in a new educational campaign, “Rules to LVE By,” today’s announcement kicks off a partnership between ITD and Vander Esch focusing on the importance of wearing a seat belt at all times while in a vehicle.

“We are thrilled to partner with Leighton on this project,” said ITD Highway Safety Manager John Tomlinson. “He believes in hard work and doing things the right way, these are his rules to live by. Wearing a seat belt is one of those rules and we hope other Idahoans follow that example.”

Statistics show that eighty-five percent of people in Idaho buckle up. At the same time, nearly two-thirds of people killed in motor vehicle crashes were not properly restrained. The majority of those people were killed on rural roads.

“Having Leighton onboard can really make a difference in those rural communities,” Tomlinson said. “That’s where he grew up and he really understands the values of a small town but he also has a broad appeal that will resonate with all Idahoans.”

“I’m very proud to be from Idaho and my wife and I love coming home every chance we get,” Vander Esch said. “Lately, I’ve been learning a lot about the importance of seatbelt safety in my work with ITD, I’m excited to partner with them to help educate Idahoans about the importance of buckling up.”

The statewide program “Rules to LVE By” will include a media campaign featuring Vander Esch and educational events being planned at schools throughout the state. The first commercials featuring Vander Esch and his personal rules, including a message to “always buckle up,” were released today, and can be seen at shift-idaho.org/buckleupidaho.

“I’m grateful that I can help save lives and give back to the place that will always be my home,” Vander Esch said.

Wet weather expected to create hazardous travel conditions in North Central Idaho through the weekend

Plow truck damaged by a tree on ID-162 MP 21

Drivers are encouraged to exercise caution as snowy, rainy and windy conditions are creating hazardous conditions by bringing trees and rocks down onto highways in North Central Idaho. Soils, saturated by moisture, are not able to anchor rocks and vegetation to hillsides.

Small rockslides closed Idaho Highway 14 at mileposts 22 and 38 earlier this morning, and US-12 at milepost 93 is currently blocked by fallen trees. Over the last several days, variable weather conditions have resulted in numerous callouts for downed trees, rock fall and plugged culverts.

“Heavy snow from previous storms has weighed down trees, and saturated soils are unable to keep trees in place, especially in windy conditions,” Operations Engineer Bob Schumacher said. “Just last night, one of our plow trucks—while responding to a downed tree in the road—was hit by another tree.”

The truck was not occupied at the time.

“So far, we have dealt mainly with rocks and trees,” Schumacher said. “Travelers should also be aware of the potential for avalanches in areas of steep slopes, particularly on US-12, with this variable weather.”

Drivers are advised to be cautious this time of year and to look for debris in the road. They should also check 511.idaho.gov for any road blockages or closures, and plan extra time for any travel.

Slow Your Roll – A candid Q&A with Corporal Bolen

Single car traveling in winter weather.

When it comes to winter driving, safety is always the message we try to stress. Of course, it’s easy to tell people to slow downstay engaged, and drive safely. Unless you’ve been personally affected by the consequences of speeding and winter weather, the seriousness of the message may not resonate.

Idaho State Police (ISP) Trooper BolenWith this in mind, I decided to sit down with our south-central Idaho Law Enforcement Liaison, Scott Bolen. Corporal Bolen has served with Idaho State Police for five years. He’s seen a lot of incidents on Idaho roads during his tenure with ISP. Corporal Bolen offered some insight and advice to benefit all motorists navigating Idaho roads this season.


Q: How do you feel about driving in the snow?

When there is snow on the roadway, it becomes more challenging to drive. Often, snow is just one aspect of multiple challenges a driver faces in winter weather. For example, when we look outside today, not only do we find snowy conditions, but that snow combines with dense fog, which further decreases visibility for a motorist. It’s not impossible to drive in these conditions. However, if you decide to get behind the wheel, you need to decide to drive safely – slow down, increase your stopping distance, and drive for the conditions. 


Q: What are some winter driving incidents you have encountered that have left a lasting impression?

Unfortunately, I encounter many incidents that leave lasting impressions. A few years ago, it was a particularly bad winter. There were a lot of slide-offs that season, and I remember responding to an incident on the interstate where a passenger vehicle had slid off into the median. Visibility was very low that day, and that, combined with the high speed of traveling motorists, made the side of the roadway a frightening place to be. Multiple vehicles, including a semi-truck, came within a breath of hitting my patrol car while I worked to assist the vehicle in distress.  

Another incident occurred where a semi-trailer came over a hill and hit a patch of ice, causing it to jackknife on the highway. I arrived on the scene to find the driver standing outside in the freezing weather. He was terrified that another vehicle was going to come upon him too quickly, not be able to stop and collide with his trailer. Both of these situations could have improved if motorists slowed down, paid attention to their surroundings, and drove for the conditions. 


Q: How many incidents do you feel could have been avoided?

A lot. I cannot even begin to count how many slide-offs and rollovers to which I’ve responded. Many crashes were avoidable if drivers would have taken their cruise control off in slick weather and slowed down. It’s sad to say, but a vast majority of people are impatient. They don’t realize that taking a few extra minutes to get somewhere could make a difference in not getting there at all. 


Q: We remind people to plan ahead when they travel and encourage them to pack emergency winter kits in their cars. What other tips would you recommend for motorists this season?

I think it’s important to remind people to check the weather before they get on the roadway so that they can plan their commute accordingly. The live camera feeds and road updates on 511.idaho.gov are an excellent resource for people to utilize. If individuals are traveling, they need to tell people what route they are taking and what time they expect to arrive at their destination. This planning will help out greatly in the unfortunate event that you get lost or stranded during travel. 


Q: If you could get all drivers to make one change in their behavior, what would it be and why?

The things I’ve seen in my career have made me think and drive differently. Telling people to slow down and be patient is something I cannot stress enough. So many of our winter crashes occur because motorists want to keep going as fast as the posted speed limit allows. Those speeds are set for ideal driving conditions. While you may be able to drive 65 or 80 mph on slick roads, that doesn’t mean you will be able to maintain control of your vehicle or stop. Slowing down and increasing your stopping distance gives you more time to react if something goes wrong.


Q: Anything else you want to add?

Just that we are here to serve the people and help keep our roadways safe. In emergencies, you should always call 9-1-1. If there is a non-emergency, for example, you slide off the road or even suspect a DUI vehicle, call our dispatch center at *ISP (*- 4-7-7), and we will head out to help. 

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!

Be Here Tomorrow: Holiday Impaired Driving campaign kicks off statewide

The holidays are here. That means it’s time for eggnog, ugly sweaters, and our yearly effort to get drunk drivers off the roads. This is an effort is to remind Idahoans to Be Here Tomorrow and to celebrate safely and to have a plan for a sober ride home.

This year, the Office of Highway Safety and law enforcement agencies across the state will get some help from an unexpected place – 210 unexpected places to be exact.

During the holiday season, messages reminding revelers to celebrate safely will appear on interactive jukeboxes in 210 bars around Idaho, many of them in rural areas where impaired driving is more prevalent. As bar-goers celebrate the holidays at participating bars, they will see messages encouraging them to get a sober ride home.

In addition to seeing OHS messages, jukebox users will also be able to earn a free song by participating in a quiz about drunk driving. Most importantly, the screen will provide numbers for local taxi services and wait times for ride share services.

The goal of this new approach is to help people make the right choice before they get behind the wheel – law enforcement officers will be on the lookout for those who make the wrong choice.

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.

Safety Service Patrol on I-84 showcases its value in first week of operations

It’s Day 2 of operations for the Safety Service Patrol in the I-84 Corridor and the service is showing its value as it cleared a three-vehicle crash quickly during Monday’s morning commute.

The crash happened during the peak drive time on eastbound I-84 near the Northside Blvd. Exit. Patrol driver Craig Parker came upon the crash shortly after it occurred and was the first on scene. Parker quickly contacted emergency services to get the full response rolling.

“Two of the three vehicles were able to drive off the highway and get to a safe location out of traffic,” said Parker. “I got the third attached to my tow truck and pulled it to the Jackson’s parking lot. ISP and a second tow truck were already waiting to take care of the rest of the incident.”

Thanks to the presence of the Patrol, traffic flow returned to normal quicker than normal. Parker says from crash to hand-off, the whole thing took less than an hour – the impact to the traveling public was even less than that.

“If this crash was treated normally, traffic would have been backed up for at least an hour and a half,” said ITD Emergency Response Manager Neal Murphy. “The time it would take for someone to contact law enforcement, then a tow company – the tow truck would have been stuck in traffic on the way to the crash – this was a perfect example of why we started the Safety Service Patrol.”

The Safety Service Patrol will operate Monday-Friday during the morning and evening commutes:

– 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. between the Karcher/Midland and Garrity interchanges, and
– 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. between the Ten Mile and Karcher/Midland interchanges.

Disabled cars, trucks or motorcycles will be towed to the Jacksons parking lot near the Franklin Boulevard Interchange (1407 N. Franklin Blvd.). Motorists will be responsible to arrange to retrieve their vehicles within 24 hours.

Although the Safety Service Patrol will be out actively searching for disabled vehicles, drivers can still call 911 or *ISP in an emergency.

Idaho’s “Move Over” law requires drivers to move into the next lane for tow trucks, incident response vehicles and emergency personnel.