Time for tires and studs

Posted: Thursday, November 25, 2010

The first light snow of the year showed just how unprepared many Juneau drivers were, as a rush of vehicle owners brought cars, trucks and the round things that they rest on into local tire stores for help.

"It seems like all of Juneau was in here," Les Schwab Tires manager Joe Sorenson said. "We are still running 60-70 cars a day. This year we had a chance to get them done before the big snows hit. As soon as drivers see cars flipped over and parked in Egan they come in."

Sorenson said chains are generally a bad idea and studless snow tires or studded tires are the best choices for winter commutes.

"The most important thing, though, is to be patient," Sorenson said. "We will get to them all, just be willing to drop your car off."

Once tires are "squared" away, the Juneau Police Department has safe operating tips.

"The obvious tip is for people not to assume anything," JPD Sgt. Steve Hernandez said. "When it is cloudy and raining or snowing, always assume at some point on the highway it will be icy."

As Hernandez spoke, JPD was responding to a vehicle that slid off the road near the Mendenhall Bridge.

"And two more cars spun out there even with the JPD patrol cars lights flashing," Hernandez said. "Do not slow down at an abnormal rate of speed to watch an accident. No lookie-louies. Remain your concentration on that road in front of you. The entertainment is not to the left or right. The danger to you will be in front of you.

"For a majority of the people, this is not their first winter and they will tell us they were going too fast for the conditions or were too close to another vehicle. Drivers have got to use common sense. The assumption that you can do the normal stuff you normally do just doesn't work now."

Hernandez suggests drivers leave half an hour earlier than they normally would for a destination, which allows a slower drive time, and maintain at least a two, three or even four vehicle length between you and the car in front of you.

Hernandez also suggests alternate routes, such as taking Glacier Highway where the speed limit is slower instead of Egan Drive where traffic must slow from 55 mph for traffic signals.

Hernandez also warns drivers to avoid texting or talking on cell phones while driving.

"You will see a majority of the city employees pull off the road to use their phone," Hernandez said. "You have to be a defensive driver out there, assume the person in front of you is not paying attention. You will have a better chance to react to the conditions that occur if you don't have other distractions."

Hernandez said clumps of snow or gravel would provide better traction than the tire-rut lanes cars frequent. The ruts turn into polished ice, he said. If you are going up a hill and slipping, it is recommended to find the clumpy sections of snow where gravel is pushed away from the ruts for traction.

"If you have bald tires keep the car at home," Hernandez said. "You might as well come to the station and we will just give you a ticket. Bald tires are going to be slick on slick and nothing there is going to help you steer."

• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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