Drivers must take care in wintertime conditions |

Drivers must take care in wintertime conditions

By the side of U.S. Highway 50, police and firefighters waited to pull two bodies from a car overturned in a creek bed Tuesday.

Glowing dully, the lights from a California Department of Transportation sign above the road, cast a yellow hue on the men below.

The sign said chains were required on Echo Summit. It warned drivers of dangerous driving conditions.

For many drivers who don’t take proper precautions, the road conditions can lead to accidents.

Police believe the man who died Tuesday was driving nearly 50 mph, far too fast for the icy conditions.

According to California Highway Patrolman Steve Gwaltney, accidents increase significantly after the first snowfall of the year.

“People just don’t get into that winter driving mode fast enough,” he said. “It seems like some people have to see other people get in an accident or lose control themselves before they take proper precautions.”

People who think they are invincible because they drive sport utility vehicles, and the number of tourists who come to South Lake Tahoe exacerbate the problem Gwaltney said.

“I think our locals are good drivers for the most part,” he said. “Locals do get into accidents; they do happen, but most of them are caused by people from other areas.”

According to California Department of Transportation drivers should be prepared for weather and road conditions to change rapidly. Spin-outs and accidents are common during storms and can block the roadway for several hours.

Highway 50 and Interstate 80 are particularly vulnerable to road closures, according to Caltrans, because of their high traffic volume.

Caltrans and the CHP recommend taking the following precautions if you are planning to drive in winter conditions:

– Always wear a safety belt, it reduces the odds of injury or death by 50 percent.

– Never drink and drive.

– Don’t speed. Thirty one percent of all fatal crashes are speed-related.

– Make sure your brakes, windshield wipers and washers, defrosters, heaters and exhaust systems are in good working order.

– Always carry chains. Make sure they are the proper size for your tires and are in working order. Chains must be installed on the drive wheels. Make sure you know if your vehicle is front- or rear-wheel drive.

– Carry an ice scraper or a commercial deicer, a broom for brushing snow off your car, a shovel to free your car if it is snowed in, and sand or burlap for traction if your wheels become mired in snow.

– Store water, food, warm blankets and extra clothing in your car.

– Put an extra key in your pocket. A number of motorists have locked themselves out of their cars when they stopped to put on chains.

The two most important driving tips, Gwaltney said, are to slow down and to look farther in front of the car.

“I can’t tell you how many times a passenger has seen a car spin out, thinking the driver has seen it too, and they plow right into it because they are staring at the ground just in front of the car,” he said.

The CHP and Caltrans go to great lengths to teach safety and Gwaltney said, “That’s all we want, is for people to be safe.”

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