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DOT, JPD caution drivers as weather gets icy

Hike in accidents noticeable during winter months

Posted: November 12, 2013 - 12:04am

Temperatures are dropping and patches of ice can be seen on Juneau’s roads. For the Juneau Police Department, this means more accidents will be popping up all over town.

“It seems like, every year, lots of people learn how to drive again in the winter time,” JPD Sgt. David Wrightson said. “There’s a huge increase in the volume of accidents in the winter time, there’s no doubt about it.”

The Alaska Department of Transportation also cautioned drivers to be extra vigilant as the weather changes. Drivers should give others on the road more space than usual because stopping times increase in icy conditions, according to a release from the DOT. Wrightson said this is the single most important rule to follow during winter.

“Typically, people should allow three times more distance than they’d normally allow,” he said. “And people with four wheel drive or all wheel drive think that’s the save-all but they can slide and slip like anyone else.”

It’s also important to fully clear your car of snow before driving, according to the DOT statement. In fact, it’s the law, Wrightson said.

“People don’t clear off their roofs, hoods and windshields — they’ll clear a little hole they can see through,” he said.
Wrightson said this becomes a problem when the driver stops at a red light and all the snow on the roof comes slamming down onto the windshield. Then they’re stuck clearing off the windshield at an intersection — not the safest situation, he said.

“Now they can’t go anywhere,” Wrightson said. “It’s actually illegal to drive around with those quantities of snow on your vehicle.”

Ice is another hazard that trips up Juneau drivers regularly, he said.

“Just the other day we had our first freeze and we had some accidents,” Wrightson said. “All we had was a little ice on the road.”

Black ice is especially problematic out North Douglas, where the hilly landscape blocks the sun and prevents ice from thawing on the roads, he said.

“We have a lot of vehicles sliding off the road out there,” Wrightson said.

If you do find yourself sliding, stay calm and turn your wheels in the direction you’re heading, he said.

“If you’re sliding to the right, you have to steer to the right to get back under control,” and vice versa, Wrightson said.

Some other tips: If you get stuck in the snow, don’t spin your wheels. You’ll just get yourself in deeper, he said. Don’t use cruise control on icy roads — keep full control over your acceleration at all times. And if you get stuck on the side of the road, immediately call the police. Because snowplow trucks will be using the shoulder, vehicles can’t remain there for any length of time, Wrightson said.

If you find yourself driving near a snowplow, don’t try to pass it, the DOT said.

“Their (snowplow drivers’) visibility is extremely limited up there,” Wrightson agreed. “Stay back 200 feet from those trucks.”

To help drivers plan winter travel, real-time road information from the DOT can be found online at 511.alaska.gov or by calling 5-1-1.

Wrightson said the car accidents caused by the first freeze are only the beginning — drivers need to be more and more aware of conditions as the season harshens.

“It’s coming,” he said.

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com.

Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.

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