Ask the Chief
Recent snow storms have once again shown some very common Minnesota driving errors. Now, before you gasp in anger and prepare to march on city hall with a complaint, please allow me to explain.
I am not saying that bad drivers are bad people. They are most likely very good and hardworking people who are making dangerous driving errors. These errors often result in vehicle collisions, going into a ditch and thousands of "close calls". Based upon what I see, I am amazed we don't have people getting killed every week.
This letter is only intended to be informative and give people an opportunity to review their own driving skills.
1: Overdriving road conditions — This is by far the most dangerous error to make. It’s also one of the easiest to correct. Minnesota Statute 169.14 says, "No person shall drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions.
Every driver is responsible for becoming and remaining aware of the actual and potential hazards then existing on the highway and must use due care in operating a vehicle. In every event speed shall be so restricted as may be necessary to avoid colliding with any person, vehicle or other conveyance on or entering the highway in compliance with legal requirements and the duty of all persons to use due care."
Basic rule No. 1. Dry ground and excellent visibility.
The maximum speed limit is just that, MAXIMUM. Don't go faster than what is posted and you are certainly welcome to drive under the limit.
For every 10 mph you should be one car length behind the vehicle in front of you. This means that for Hwy. 68 at 60 mph you should be six car lengths behind the vehicle you are following. This too is at the danger limit. There is nothing stopping you from backing off and having 10 car lengths between you and the other vehicle. By doing so, it provides you with more time to respond to an emergency. Basic rule No. 2. Dry ground nighttime driving. According to the AAA, "At 55 miles per hour, you need about 500 feet to perceive an obstacle, react to it and bring your vehicle to a complete and safe stop.” AAA's research found that the most common halogen reflector lights illuminate only 300 feet on low beams. That leaves 200 feet of dark road where obstacles could be lurking unseen, with no time for drivers to react to the hazard. “Drivers of late-model vehicles equipped with high-intensity discharge (HID) have illumination up to 400 feet on low beams, and light-emitting diode (LED) lighting provides illumination up to 450 feet."
This means that you really can't see what is in front of you and you should reduce speeds at night. Basic Rule No. 3. Weather conditions. Minnesota is known for its weather, and rain, ice, and snow will alter the quality of the road surface.
This means that your vehicle could hydroplane, slip, slide and skid out of control. The only way to avoid this is to slow down. Basic Rule No. 4. Head and tail lights. Daytime running lights do not turn on your tail lights. Don't rely on them. When you get in your car, manually turn on your head/tail lights.
As for driving with your flashers on during a snowstorm, I would direct you to Minnesota Statute 169.64 Flashing lights, "....on any vehicle as a means of indicating a right or left turn, or the presence of a vehicular traffic hazard requiring unusual care in approaching, overtaking, or passing."
Please take note of what is in bold and underlined. When you are driving in a storm you are not approaching, overtaking or passing a hazard. This is intended for situations such as accident scenes, Law Enforcement, Fire or EMS on the roadway or shoulder, road construction/maintenance, along with pedestrians or animals on the roadway or ditch. Again, flashers are not intended for driving in a storm. The best thing to do is to slow down and turn on your head and tail lights.
2: Overdriving your vehicle — There is a misconception that an all-wheel drive, four-wheel drive or a large vehicle is safer than other vehicles when road conditions are bad. In fact, many people drive these vehicles in the winter as if they were driving on a bright and dry summer day.
This false sense of security leads to people driving too fast for road conditions. Many don't realize that larger vehicles weigh more and need more time and distance to stop, more room to maneuver and can roll over when going into a ditch.
Furthermore, the most important aspect of any vehicle is the quality and condition of the tires, brakes, and lights. If you are looking for a safe vehicle invest your money where the rubber meets the road.
3: Overdriving your own skill and comfort level — I have spoken with many people who are in a ditch, at a vehicle collision or are being stopped for a traffic violation who think they are God's gift to driving.
They had no understanding of how their vehicle and the dangerous road conditions would interact nor of their own ability to assess and operate a vehicle while driving with bad road conditions.
Even when not at a collision I see these same people demonstrating the same lack of respect for others by not having their headlights on during a storm or, driving too fast and at a times exceeding the MAXIMUM POST SPEED LIMIT.
If you want to be a safer driver then I encourage you to take a serious look at these three common errors.