OLYMPIA, WA - With the state highway crews now into winter gear, they have a few words of advice for drivers: be prepared and slow down.
Those simple words of wisdom could be the difference between a long wait on the highway or more time for family and fun.
"The last thing we want to do is see a car in the ditch," said Mike Krahenbuhl, maintenance supervisor on Interstate 90 at Hyak. "That usually means the driver was going too fast or had to avoid someone else going too fast."
Krahenbuhl has spent more than 40 years clearing snow and ice from Washington's roadways. He said it takes just one person driving too fast or forgetting to prepare their vehicle for cold weather to cause a chain-reaction collision.
And it's not just in the mountains, said Monty Mills, snow and ice program manager for the Washington State Department of Transportation. "Prepare your car and prepare yourself for the conditions you will be driving into," said Mills. "When the temperature drops, drivers all over the state need to be ready. We're working to keep the highways open but need drivers' help."
WSDOT asks drivers to always "know before you go" and get the most recent roadway information.
The DOT says be sure to drive for the conditions. That means slower speeds, slower acceleration. Slow down when approaching intersections, off ramps, bridges, or shady spots. Use your headlights and do not use cruise control. Leave extra room between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you. And remember, the larger the vehicle, the longer the stopping distance.
If you find yourself behind a snowplow, stay behind it until it is safe to pass. Remember that a snowplow driver has a limited field of vision. Stay back (15 car lengths) until you're sure it is safe to pass or until the plow pulls off the road. On multi-lane roadways, snow plows often need to clear the center, throwing snow, ice and slush into nearby lanes. If approaching an on-coming snow plow, slow down and give the plow a little extra room.
Slow down and be extra cautious near the chain-up and removal areas. There are often people out of their vehicles.
Also keep in mind, four-wheel and all-wheel vehicles do not stop or steer better on ice.