by Tom Burch

Cass County Sheriff

Although we have had an incredible fall, with much better weather than last fall, our seasons are quickly changing as we move into winter. Our first winter rain and snow events always create driving conditions that we have not seen for a few months and seem to create issues on our roadways. We would like to take the opportunity to remind readers about brushing up on winter driving skills and things to be aware of that we may have forgotten over the past few months.  The Cass County Sheriff’s Office and the  Homeland Security and Emergency Management  - A Division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety - offers the following tips as we enter the winter driving season.

Some things to consider before you drive:

• Check current road conditions. Go to www.Mn511.org for the latest information.  If you have a smart phone, their mobile app provides excellent information and even images of webcams and snowplow views to see real time images of road conditions.

• Use your radio to tune to stations that regularly broadcast weather warnings, traffic reports and instructions.

•  Assemble an emergency kit and keep it in the vehicle throughout the season.

•  Keep essential items in the car.  Include paper road maps (even if you have GPS), a cell phone with charger, a shovel, windshield scraper, tow rope, booster cables and a reflector or brightly colored cloth to use as a distress signal. Can also include a bag of sand/salt or non-clumping cat litter to place under tires if stuck in snow or ice.

•  For long trips, tell someone where you are going, the routes you intend to travel and when you expect to return. When you reach your destination, call to report you have arrived.

•  Stay on designated roads or detours. Avoid “shortcuts” off main highways, as these may not be plowed or patrolled. Often, GPS units will route travelers based on the shortest trip possible, using forest roads, logging and even snowmobile trails. Make sure that you understand your route that is being mapped and that these are actually navigable roadways.

•  Before leaving town, fill your gas tank. While traveling, stop frequently to refill your tank.

•  Be Able to See and Be Seen - clean frost and snow off all windows, mirrors, lights and reflectors. Equip your car with good wiper blades and keep an ample supply of windshield washer fluid. If visibility is poor, use headlights! Take the time to properly warm up the vehicle and melt snow and ice off the windows. Take the time to clear snow from headlights, taillights and around the corners of the vehicle.

A cell phone is a valuable tool for drivers who witness, or are involved in, emergency situations. Cell phone users on the road must provide dispatchers with specific information about the emergency. Cellular 911 calls are routed to public safety answering points operated by state or local agencies. Although newer cell phones now provide approximate location or have GPS and callback numbers, when 911 is dialed, an exact location may need to be provided by the caller. Please take the time to answer the dispatcher’s questions and provide them with as much information as possible, in the event the call gets transferred to the State Patrol please be patient and stay on the line to speak with the appropriate dispatch center and get the information shared.

It’s especially important to be cautions and patient with snowplow vehicles. Snowplows travel much slower than the posted speeds because it is most effective for clearing roads. The driver’s field of vision is severely restricted behind the truck and the driver must rely on mirrors to see to the rear and side of the truck. MNDOT asks us to remember to:

• Be patient, and remember snowplows are working to improve road conditions for your trip.

• Stay back at least 10 car lengths between your vehicle and a plow and far from the snow cloud. Snowplow operators will pull over when it is safe to do so to allow traffic build-up to pass.

• Stay alert for snowplows that turn or exit frequently and often with little warning. They also may travel over centerlines or partially in traffic to further improve road conditions.

• Slow down to a safe speed for current conditions. Snowplows typically move at slower speeds.

• Buckle up and ensure children are properly secured in the correct child restraint.  

• Avoid unnecessary travel, if road conditions are too poor.

While our dispatch center can be helpful in reporting a crash or traffic incident, we do not always have access or know updated road conditions, as conditions change quickly and rapidly from one end of the county to the other. We would ask people to use weather apps, internet, radio station, etc for their weather information and know that calling us for some of this information could be preventing callers with an emergency situation from getting the quick help that they need. Safe travels this winter!

If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, contact me anytime: e-mail tom.burch@co.cass.mn.us; call (218) 547-1424  or (800) 450-2677; or mail Cass County Sheriff’s Office, 303 Minnesota Ave W, P.O. Box 1119, Walker, MN 56484

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