With the recent snowfall and below average temperatures, winter is making its way to the southwestern part of North Dakota. As the slushy roads shiver into ice, the Dickinson Police and Fire Department want to remind citizens and newcomers to be extra cautious while driving.
Most causes of winter vehicle accidents are due to slippery road conditions and driver error, Dickinson Police Captain David Wilkie said. Paying attention to the vehicle in front of you is important because it takes a longer time to break and stop in the winter than it does in nice weather conditions, he noted.
“People don’t change their habits. It’s like you go to work and you give yourself 5 minutes to get there, (but) during winter you need to spread that out. Take your time to get there. Make sure you can drive slow in slippery weather, so it’s safe,” Wilkie said. “You need to give yourself more time and you also need to think about your route. If you take a route that has less traffic, you might also be getting into slippier and nastier roads because the city’s not going to maintain that as fast as if you take Third Avenue or you take one of the bigger streets that get maintained sooner.
“You’re going to deal with more vehicles but you’re probably also going to deal with better road conditions. So think about your route and think about how much time it’s going to take you if you drive safely. Don’t maintain your summer or nice weather habits like stopping 10 feet in front of the stop sign.”
Winter tires are also a necessity people should consider investing in, Wilkie said, explaining that studded tires are good but even all-season radial tires will keep you from swerving all over the road. Though winter tires help with icy or slushy road conditions, Wilkie encourages people to “drive slow, drive considerate.”
“Make sure there’s plenty of distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. Make sure you’ve got plenty of time to get to where you’re going,” he remarked.
Servicing your vehicle is also vital, Wilkie continued, because the service crew will be able to check over everything from fluids to tires, making your vehicle safe and dependable for the winter.
“If you haven’t had your car serviced, you should probably do it before it gets too late, especially if you’re from the South because I can guarantee your oil is not going to be thick enough. Up here, we use 10W30 — which is a thicker oil that doesn’t freeze as much. You’re going to want to look at (that) and make sure you’ve got your oil changed because if your oil freezes up, you’re not going to use it for the rest of the winter,” he said.
The roads, alone, are a test throughout the winter and it’s important to be aware of those weather conditions and also home heating options, Dickinson Fire Chief Jeremy Presnell said. People should be mindful of their indoor space heaters and fireplaces while also checking their sewer vents to make sure they’re open so gases can escape, Presnell said.
“The other big call we get for CO (carbon monoxide) is people starting their vehicles while they’re in the garage. Even if the door is open, having them in the garage doesn’t eliminate the CO from coming into the house. So if you need to warm up your vehicle, you need to start it back out of the garage and you need to close the garage door to keep that CO from coming in,” Presnell noted. “Cracking the door a little bit is really going to make it worse; it’s going to try to suck into the house and that’s where we’re going to start to get issues where people get carbon monoxide poisoning.”
Dressing for the winter weather conditions is highly recommended before leaving the house, Wilkie said, and while heating your vehicle up, do not leave it unlocked and unattended.
In case someone were to get stranded in the middle of nowhere, Wilkie also mentioned that it’s important for individuals to keep their vehicles equipped with the right winter essentials such as non-perishable foods such as granola bars, blanket, jumper cables and a powerpack.
“I always recommend to put (an) extra pair of gloves and hat in there because you might leave thinking you’re going to go somewhere and you might not take your hat and gloves because your car’s warming up in your garage. (But) if your car stalls out in the country somewhere, you’re going to need a hat and gloves,” Wilkie said.
A cell phone charger is especially important if your cellular device runs out of power, Wilkie said, noting that North Dakota has good cellular service compared to other states and dispatch will be able to pinpoint your location.
“If you do make a call and you don’t know where you’re at, your phone does leave a GPS coordinate for dispatch. Dispatch will know where you’re at even if you don’t, so make sure you’ve got a charged up cell phone,” he added.