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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Getting There: On snowy roadways, slower is smarter

Extra distance, easy turns can help increase safety

An SUV that lost a front wheel sits atop a snow berm on South Regal Street last week. Snowy, slippery conditions call for increased caution. (Christopher Anderson)
An SUV that lost a front wheel sits atop a snow berm on South Regal Street last week. Snowy, slippery conditions call for increased caution. (Christopher Anderson)

Now that the weather has our attention, it’s probably a good time to check in with the highway patrol on how to stay safe on the road this winter.

Washington State Patrol Trooper Troy Briggs said the single most important thing driving in winter is simple:

“Probably the most common mistake we see is speed that is too fast for road conditions,” he said.

How fast is too fast? That depends, Briggs said.

Often, drivers cannot see black ice or a slippery glaze on top of packed snow, so it is difficult to put a number on the right speed.

Drivers on Spokane city streets generally go 20 to 25 mph on arterials where the speed limit is 30.

Drivers are responsible for maintaining control of their vehicles under any conditions, Briggs said, so smart driving is the key.

Essentially, drivers have to rethink how they drive and consciously override habits formed during good weather.

Slow acceleration, easy turns, and early, prolonged braking are the keys to staying in one piece on icy roads, Briggs said.

Increased following distance is imperative. Anticipating stops and turns and slowing down well in advance will keep drivers out of trouble, Briggs said.

An all-wheel-drive vehicle with snow tires won’t necessarily prevent accidents, he said.

Some vehicles are not as manageable on snow and ice, and drivers should consider the possibility that others may have more trouble negotiating winter conditions.

“Not everybody has the same skills. Not everybody is driving the same vehicle,” Briggs said.

Keeping the wheels turning is another key to successful snow driving.

If the rear end slides out, turn the front wheels in the direction of the slide, but be careful not to over-steer. The idea is to keep the front wheels ahead of the rear wheels.

In an emergency stop, don’t stomp on the brakes – lightly tapping the brake pedal in quick succession is more effective. Anti-lock brakes will help, but you get better stopping traction if you keep the wheels rolling while braking.

When it comes to being equipped, motorists should carry emergency supplies of blankets, extra clothing, food, water, charged cell phone, flashlight, shovel, and traction devices such as cable chains and traction sand.

When snow buried much of Spokane in December 2008, many drivers got stuck trying to enter arterial streets because plows had pushed piles of snow into the intersections and driveways.

A flat-nosed shovel became a necessary tool to get free from the heavy, compressed snow in those spots.

In case of an accident or breakdown, it’s important that motorists are prepared to survive cold temperatures until help arrives. Remember, if the engine is disabled, the heat won’t work.

The gas tank should be filled when embarking on a trip and refilled frequently to ensure there is plenty of fuel on board in case of trouble.

AAA recommends that motorists stay on main highways during winter to increase the likelihood the road is plowed and help is not too far away, and be sure to tell someone of your travel plans and estimated arrival times.

The WSP and the Washington Department of Transportation sent out a reminder last week that up-to-date road information is easily available online or by phone, and travelers should check for the latest reports before embarking on their trips.

For Washington highways and traffic cameras, go to In Idaho, go to, and for the Spokane metropolitan area, the website is Road reports are also available by dialing 511 and following the touch-tone prompts.

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