With drivers back on the road, ITD kicks off another work zone awareness week

Crew removing brush on US-2 as an example of a short duration operation

National Work Zone Awareness Week is traditionally held in April, but with more drivers back on highways, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) is again spotlighting work zone safety.

ITD asks media partners and drivers to tune in each day this week (May 18 – 23) to the department’s Facebook and Twitter pages to see different types of work zones.

Drivers are familiar with larger road construction projects, which are typically well-marked and have better visibility, but they may not be as familiar with short-duration operations.

These can pop up anywhere, at any time. Whether it is a highway worker stopping to remove a shredded tire or animal carcass from the road, or performing maintenance work like repairing guardrail right next to the travel lanes, these jobs generally put workers closer to the road, and closer to danger. There is less time for the worker or the driver to take evasive action when encountering short-duration operations.

Just last year, an ITD operator was killed outside Arco in a short-duration operation, reminding us all of the importance of being safe and vigilant in work zones across the state.

During this week, ITD also remembers the sacrifices of other workers lost over the years while on the job – many of them were killed in work zones. Since this picture was taken, there have been two more markers added to the Fallen Workers Memorial, bringing the total to 40 workers since 1960.

“Work zones can be the most hazardous areas on our state highway system,” ITD Safety Manager Randall Danner said. “We urge drivers to use extreme caution when passing through these areas so they can arrive at their destination safely and our workers can return home to their loved ones.”

In addition to short-duration maintenance operations, ITD has dozens of projects planned this year with information on itdprojects.org. Each project is different in terms of traffic revisions and reduced speed limits. Please check 511.idaho.gov for traveler information.

As winter melts away, spring brings new driving precautions

US-12 slide near Kamiah from April 2019

ITD crews, including our most dedicated snow plow operators, look forward to the onset of spring. But, the new season brings new challenges. Spring is a time of transition, and fluctuating temperatures can make it one of the busiest seasons for our employees. As winter melts away, please be mindful of the below scenarios and take precautions.

Problems can pop up quickly — whether it’s a series of deep, tire-damaging potholes in the fast lane or massive mudslides that block key routes in just minutes. Responding to these situations can be challenging as crews switch from long hours of nighttime snow plowing to daytime repairs.

Some repairs — like patching potholes — have to be done with multiple treatments since they’re not as effective in cold weather. Other repairs may need to wait until trucks currently outfitted with plows can be converted to haul other materials.

This transition from winter to spring applies to drivers, too. You still need to be prepared for winter conditions, especially when traveling over mountain passes. Spring is an excellent time to change out wiper blades and check tires to prep your car for wet roads. Shadowed corners can be icy on cold mornings, and storms can mix rain and snow as you gain elevation. In periods of heavy rain, vigilantly watching for rocks or objects in the road can prevent a dangerous collision.

When the weather warms up, so does the desire to get outside. It’s important to watch the road not just for hazards such as fallen rocks and adverse weather conditions but to also take extra precautions and be on the lookout for motorcyclists, bicyclists, children at play and even wildlife.

As ITD crews switch to springtime tasks, make the switch too by planning for changing road conditions. Be sure to check 511.idaho.gov for alerts before you hit the road to stay safe while you travel.

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!