Frosty Fear: Driving During the Winter Season

By Joshua Murphy, 1/25/17

If the conditions prove to be too much, parking is the much safer option than attempting to continue in dangerous weather.

Although the ice and snow on the roads may be clearing up, trying to drive around a winter road can be a dangerous hassle. A driver who has never driven in these conditions can be a danger to everyone around them.

Spokane gets 22.5 more inches of snow than the national average, which means driving on snow each winter is a basic guarantee for Spokane residents. Being aware of the dangers of winter weather for drivers and what can be done to deal with them should help avoid any incidents during this snowy season.

Driving challenges for the winter season

When the first snow starts to fall, and roads begin to get icy, the chances of being involved in an accident increase. Statistics from the Washington State Annual Collision Summary show that 5,264 incidents are caused by snow and ice conditions on roads.

Off-campus Whitworth student Jared Ekstrom has to drive to school each day, and over time he said he has noticed the changes that occur when driving during the winter. He said that the first days are always the worst, but that the roads get better over time, with snow plows and other vehicles helping to clean the roads.

“A lot of people are going to have issues driving during the early days, the only good thing that comes out of it is being able to drift,” Ekstrom said.

Having to drive on icy roads can be a challenge for everyone, but those who are going to have the hardest time are the inexperienced. The sensation of losing control from drifting can be terrifying, and the inexperienced may overreact and cause an accident.

Another challenge drivers might face is using an older vehicle, which will suffer in colder weather. These issues can range from difficulty starting the vehicle, to tire problems and grip issues. Jackie Goree, who has driven an Acura MDX since 2001, said she has personally had to deal with the annoyances of driving an older vehicle.

“On one trip to Hayden, my car got stuck trying to get up a hill to my house. The weather got worse and we had to get the car towed, even though it was four wheel drive,” Goree said.

It’s important to take notice of areas that haven’t been cleared yet, as they will be the hardest to drive on.

The de-icing efforts being done

A question that goes through everyone’s mind when talking about frozen roads is who exactly is working on de-icing the streets.

The Winter Roads Maintenance page provides information on how Spokane County road crews work. Their priority for plowing, sanding, and de-icing is major routes first, then secondary roads and hillside residential areas, and then finally with rural roads and residential areas.

The county website features a map that shows snow plow activity, showing where the plows are working on clearing.

Tips for driving during winter

When people can’t clean up all those icy roads, they are going to have to face them, even if they would prefer otherwise. Shawn Murphy, who spent seven years in Alaska for his job, often had to deal with driving on difficult roads during the winter season.

“I worked for a pharmaceutical company, and had to drive through the state of Alaska in varying conditions,” Murphy said.

Murphy said if the weather was really bad, to not risk driving, as both the roads and freezing weather make it dangerous to go out. If you must drive, it’s important to try and keep moving, as stopping can make it difficult to move again in snow. He also noted that you should know your car brakes well, especially if they are the kind that require you to pump them.

“Know if you have power brakes. If you do, then apply constant pressure and the car will do the break pumping for you,” Murphy said.

Winter weather only sticks for a season, but in that time the roads become perilous for everyone, especially those without experience or with newer cars. With the knowledge of what is being done by Spokane County and what can be done to avoid accidents, driving confidently during the winter season is possible.