Drive to Survive: Winter Driving

Law enforcement officers face extreme dangers when navigating streets and highways. These dangers have been well documented, but the roadways themselves pose a specific threat that's not often discussed.

Although not every collision that occurs in the winter months is caused by poor weather conditions, weather certainly plays a factor. Law officers must adapt their driving behavior to the conditions they face on the roadways.

Snow
Although it's true that snow is slick, officers should also be aware that snow can impair an officer's ability to see on the road. Snow can pile up on the windshield or cover the road. Before driving, officers should clear off all of the snow on the windows and mirrors and be aware of the following:

  • Snow can be deceiving because it may not always appear slick. Officers should always slow down well under the speed limit when driving in the snow.
  • Officers should avoid making sudden turns and maneuvers; this may cause the car to lose control.
  • Ensure the tires are in good shape. Tires should be considered for replacement when they reach approximately 6/32" of remaining tread depth to maintain good mobility in the snow.
  • If you begin to slide in the snow, don't slam on your brakes. This will likely make things worse. In a slide, you should ease off of the accelerator and gently depress the brakes while steering in the direction you need the vehicle to go.
  •  

Ice
The safest way to handle snow and ice is to not drive in it. However, for law enforcement officers, this is not an option. For obvious reasons, ice is extremely dangerous to drive on. Driving straight is just about the only thing you can do in icy conditions. Turning and stopping become an exercise in futility. If a response in icy conditions is necessary, officers should take the following precautions:

  • Officers should remain far behind other vehicles in front of them and brake very gently while steering in the direction they want to go.
  • Any turns should be done slowly and gently; any sudden movement of the vehicle can cause it to lose control.
  • Be cautious passing snow plows or sand trucks. These drivers have very limited visibility.
  • Avoid using cruise control and be especially cautious on less-traveled roads.
  • Use extra caution on overpasses and bridges because they freeze before surrounding roadways.
  • Your tires should be in excellent condition, and if you start to slide, press gently on the brakes and steer the vehicle in the condition you want it to go.
  • Ice can be particularly dangerous when you don't think it's present. If temperatures are around freezing with precipitation anywhere, ice should be expected whether or not you can see it.

Driving in hazardous conditions has always and will always be a requirement in our profession. When required, we must do so cautiously and within the environmental limits we are given.Remember:We can't help anyone if we don't arrive.

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