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November law of the month

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Motorists need to follow common-sense precautions to meet the challenges of winter driving in Wisconsin

Some people embrace while others dread winter in Wisconsin. But no matter how you feel about winter months, the inevitable onslaught of ice, snow, and limited visibility will make driving challenging and at times impossible.

When roads are slick with ice or snow, far too many drivers crash or skid off the road because they were driving too fast for conditions. “The posted speed limits, which are set for dry pavement, may be too fast for conditions when roads are snow covered and slippery. The slogan ‘Snow Means Slow’ also applies to four-wheel drive and other heavy-duty vehicles. They usually need just as much distance to stop as other vehicles,” says State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald. “A citation for driving too fast for conditions costs $213.10 with four demerit points assessed on the driver’s record.”

Winter weather also can limit visibility, so drivers must remove all frost, ice and snow from their vehicle’s windows. “To see safely in all directions, you need to clear more than just a small patch on a windshield or rear window. Clearing snow and ice from the lights, hood and roof also helps improve visibility and safety,” Superintendent Fitzgerald says.

According to state law, a vehicle’s windshield, side wings, and side and rear windows must be kept clear at all times. Violating this law costs $175.30 with two demerit points.

During severe winter storms, the safest decision often is to stay off roadways completely until conditions improve. “Law enforcement officers frequently respond to vehicles in the ditch and chain-reaction crashes when motorists should not have attempted to travel. Slowed or stalled traffic on slippery roads also delays snowplows and tow trucks, which are trying to get the roads cleared, as well as emergency responders.” Superintendent Fitzgerald says.

To minimize the dangers of winter driving, the State Patrol offers the following common-sense safety tips:

  • Always wear your seat belt. You and your passengers absolutely need this protection even in low speed “fender-bender” crashes that frequently occur on slick roads.
  • Don't use your cruise control in wintry conditions. Even on roads that appear clear, there may be slippery spots, which can cause a loss of traction and a spinout if the vehicle is in the cruise-control mode.
  • Watch for slippery bridge decks. They ice up quicker than adjacent pavement.
  • Look farther ahead than you normally do. If vehicles ahead of you are swerving or show other signs of loss of traction, you should slow down and take extra precautions.
  • Brake early. It takes much longer to stop in adverse conditions.
  • Don’t pump anti-lock brakes. With anti-lock brakes, the correct braking method is to “stomp and steer.”
  • Don’t be overconfident about the traction and stopping distance of four-wheel drive vehicles, which generally won’t stop or grip the road any better than two-wheel drive vehicles.
  • Avoid cutting in front of trucks, which take longer than automobiles to slow down or stop.
  • Leave plenty of room for snowplows. By law, you must stay back at least 200 feet from the rear of a snowplow.
  • Obey the Move Over Law, which requires drivers to shift lanes or slow down in order to provide a safety zone for a law enforcement vehicle, tow truck, ambulance, fire truck, highway maintenance vehicle, or utility vehicle that is stopped on the side of a road with its warning lights flashing.
  • If your vehicle gets stuck or becomes disabled, stay inside it with your seat belt fastened until a tow truck or other help arrives.  If you’re inside your vehicle and buckled up, you have protection against other out-of-control vehicles. There’s no protection outside your vehicle.


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Last modified: November 3, 2014

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