Rules for the road: Staying safe during Alaska commutes

John Dougherty / Sun Star

On Sunday, Oct. 18, welding student Wesley Chace hit a patch of black ice. His Ford Ranger spun around a few times and then hit another truck. Both vehicles were totaled.

“Scariest two seconds of my life. All I could think about was my little brother and his life,” Chace said.

Wesley Chace's truck is stopped on the edge of the road after spinning out on Black ice on Oct. 18. - John Doughtery / Sun Star

Wesley Chace’s truck is stopped on the edge of the road after spinning out on black ice on Oct. 18. – John Doughtery / Sun Star

With winter comes snowy and icy roads. This often leads to dangerous driving conditions. There are, however, steps you can take to keep you, your passengers and others on the road safe this winter.

“Make sure your vehicle is in good shape for the weather,” Stephen Goetz, deputy chief at the UAF Police Department, said. “You need good all-weather type tires or winter tires.” Good tires mean good grip. Which makes you less likely to spin out. The best tires for winter are non-studded one like Blizzak, Kevin Easley of American Tire & Auto said.

Blizzaks have “better grip, doesn’t ruin our roads, and it doesn’t have studs that wear out,” Easley said. The tires cost from $600 to $1,000 for a set depending on the car you have.

Make sure your brakes are in good working condition, Goetz said. If your vehicle is performing properly, you will get to where you want to go with no problems and you will avoid breaking down at 30 below zero.

Always pack warm gear: winter boots, mittens or gloves, hat, good coat. Pack a flashlight and flares. If it is dark and you break down or crash, flares will make you visible to other drivers keeping you from being hit and letting people know that you need help. Bring a scraper so you can keep your windows clear. “Pack as if you are going to break down,” Goetz said. If you are prepared, you will avoid an emergency.

“It is always changing conditions out there, especially at intersections,” Goetz said. “Idling vehicles at intersections, the heat from the car, the heat from the exhaust, make the intersections icy.” Give yourself extra time to stop. Assume that it will take twice as long to stop as on dry roads. Be aware of this and drive accordingly to protect yourself

Always drive with your headlights on and keep all your windows clear. Don’t just clear the driver side of the windshield; clear the whole windshield and side windows. This will ensure that you are able to see everything happening around you, Goetz said. If you don’t, you are limiting your ability to react.

When you’re at a stopped position look left and right to ensure that no is running a red like or sliding through the intersection. Don’t assume everyone is able to stop. This isn’t just for winter; it’s true all year long. “Just because you have the green doesn’t mean that you should go, just that you could,” Goetz said.

Do whatever possible to avoid other vehicles. “It is better for me to go off into the ditch then for me to hit an approaching vehicle,” Goetz said. Going into the ditch might ruin your car and even hurt you, but if you hit an oncoming vehicle or any other vehicle you have a high possibility of killing someone else or killing yourself.

Always plan ahead, and do your research so you know what to expect. Check the weather before you leave. Goetz recommends that people subscribe to NIXLE, a service that sends alerts directly to your phone from the FPD and the Alaska State Troopers about road conditions and traffic.

If you don’t have a vehicle but are looking to purchase one for winter then try and find one that is all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive. These have the best traction and control. A rear-wheel-drive or front-wheel-drive car is more likely to spin out or get stuck than  car with four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive. Having the right car for winter is key to staying safe on the winter roads.

Following these tips will help your winter to be safe and uneventful so you can enjoy the Fairbanks winter at its finest.

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