5 ways to stay safe on Utah’s roads this winter
The black shuttles are out. The snow is sticking. The skiers are incoming.
Is your wiper fluid topped off?
Summit County drivers got an early reintroduction to winter weather when a multi-day storm system walloped the Park City area the week of Thanksgiving.
Summit County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Andrew Wright said that, while the holiday saw more incidents than last year’s, there were no fatalities.
“Based on the amount of incidents that we had, we feel lucky that we were able to get through the holiday weekend without any fatalities in Summit County,” he said.
Sheriff’s deputies, Park City Police Department officers and Utah Highway Patrol troopers responded to 36 non-injury accidents and 15 slide-offs on Summit County roadways during the Thanksgiving travel period from Nov. 26 to Dec. 1. The Salt Lake Tribune reported nearly 600 accidents across the state over the same time period. Two of them resulted in the deaths of four people.
While many Summit County residents are familiar with the ebb and flow of winter conditions on the road, the nature of the area means it hosts many drivers who don’t share that knowledge. Here are a few things drivers can do to avoid ruining weekdays, ski trips or, most importantly, lives.
There are a variety of official and non-official resources available to Park City-area drivers to aid in planning their travels.
Social media sources, such as Facebook groups dedicated to road conditions in Utah and the #utwx hashtag on Twitter, can give drivers an idea of what to expect during weather events with information from the perspectives of their peers. The Utah Department of Transportation and local news media outlets like KSL also maintain accounts dedicated to traffic information.
Smartphone apps can help out, too. UDOT’s app, available on iOS and Android, provides maps of road closures and interactive road cameras. Navigation apps like Google Maps and Waze bring crowdsourced alerts to the dashboard.
More practically, many sources, including UDOT, recommend preparing for worst-case scenarios by packing things such as heavy blankets, portable snow shovels and more into your car.
Winter in Utah might not require an apocalypse wagon for bluebird days, but a slide-off during an unexpected storm can certainly feel like the end of the world.
Get up to speed on traction laws
UDOT is pushing for strict enforcement of this season’s new traction laws in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, but the same rules of thumb apply to the Park City area.
When the “4×4 or chains required” sign is flashing its lights on Interstate 80 or other roadways, make sure your vehicle is up to the task. Weather restrictions mean that, to legally travel through affected areas, a vehicle must be four-wheel or all-wheel drive capable or be outfitted with certified snow tires or chains. All-season tires are legal as long as they bear a snowflake symbol or an “M/S” (mud/snow) on the sidewalls and their tread is in good shape.
One of the biggest issues Wright singled out was motorists not slowing down or moving over when encountering emergency responders who are stopped on the road. One Summit County Sheriff’s deputy was assisting a driver when he was almost struck by a vehicle while stopped on the side of I-80 over the Thanksgiving period, he said. Similar incidents are relatively common throughout the state during the winter.
“A vehicle that was traveling way too fast for conditions lost control and zoomed past, in between our deputy’s vehicle and the center cement wall,” Wright said.
Respect the plow
Contrary to Hollywood propaganda such as the Nickelodeon film “Snow Day,” snow plows and snow plow drivers are good. No matter how slow they might be going, don’t try passing them. Just don’t.
“Not only do they put themselves in danger of crashing, they’re putting our snow plow drivers who are working their hardest to make our roads safer to travel on (in danger),” Wright said. “People are in such a hurry, they don’t necessarily think about the things that can happen to them, the consequences of what the road conditions truly present.”
Luckily, there were no fatalities on Summit County roads during the Thanksgiving storm this year. What do you do to stay safe on Utah’s roads during the winter?
For those who don’t have covered parking at home — or leave their car to the elements while at work or at play — it’s important not to be lazy about brushing and scraping off the snow and ice that builds up.
“There is nothing more frustrating from a law enforcement perspective than seeing someone who has scraped a four-inch little hole in the ice on their windshield and start driving down the road and don’t have a proper view,” Wright said.
The law states that snow must be cleared off at minimum to allow visibility, but just because it’s clear from the windshield doesn’t mean that accumulations over headlights, in front of license plates and on the roof won’t cause issues. Gravity can cause piled-up snow to fall in front of a driver’s windshield and obstruct the view, and wind resistance can cause chunks of it to fly off and into the windshield of other motorists.
“You present such a hazard to yourself and everyone else on the roadway,” Wright said. “There’s not necessarily a violation of the law driving around with a lot of snow on your vehicle … unless you cause a crash.”
For more information on winter driving in Utah, road conditions and regulations, visit UDOT’s website at udot.utah.gov. And remember to check your wiper fluid.
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