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4 winter driving hazards that Minnesotans should beware of

During adverse winter weather, drivers should be cautious of unseen hazards, plow vehicles, overly aggressive driving and vehicle breakdowns.

Most St. Paul residents are accustomed to dealing with challenging driving conditions during winter. Unfortunately, this experience doesn’t always ensure protection against accidents. In 2014, more than 6,900 motor vehicle accidents occurred in Minnesota during snowy conditions, according to the state Department of Public Safety. More than 1,000 other crashes happened during conditions of hail, sleet or freezing rain.

While some wintertime accidents may be almost entirely impossible to avoid, others may occur because of preventable mistakes that drivers make. Consequently, it is important for local drivers to familiarize themselves with some of the common hazards that can contribute to winter driving crashes.

1. Hidden dangers

During inclement weather, stopping to avoid rear-end collisions can take much more time and space than usual, as the Massachusetts Department of Transportation notes. This makes it crucial for drivers to look further ahead to identify upcoming hazards and anticipate the actions of other motorists. Problematically, poor visibility is a common issue during adverse weather. Therefore, drivers should always pay attention to weather conditions and lower their speed to accommodate poor visibility.

During winter, slick road conditions also may not be obvious to drivers until it is too late to avoid an accident. Drivers should remember that elevated portions of road, such as bridges, freeze before other areas and should be treated with caution. Drivers should also understand that exit ramps may not receive the same amount of de-icing treatment as highways, which makes exiting slowly advisable.

2. Snowplow accidents

Driving near snowplows can introduce several distinct hazards, according to the MDOT. Drivers should be alert to the following dangers:

  • Low visibility – the snow blowing off a plow can reduce visibility, so drivers should leave extra space when following or approaching plows.
  • Unexpected maneuvers – people driving near snowplows should remember that plows might stop unexpectedly or move over to pass obstacles, such as stationary vehicles.
  • Protruding plow blades – snowplows can be equipped with blades that extend several feet past the edge of the vehicle, so drivers should always allow as much space as possible when approaching plows.

The slow operating speed of snowplows can make passing these vehicles tempting. However, the road in front of a plow may be in bad condition, and completing a passing maneuver may also be dangerous. Therefore, drivers should avoid passing snowplows unless doing so is absolutely necessary.

3. Aggressive driving

Drivers also should be careful to avoid becoming overconfident in their tires, safety systems or drivetrain, as this confidence may be misplaced. As an example, the MDOT notes that the superior traction of four-wheel drive vehicles does not actually help these vehicles stop more quickly. Some four-wheel drive vehicles may even need additional stopping distance due to their heavier weight.

4. Vehicle failure

Cold weather can put extra strain on vehicles and increase the likelihood of a breakdown. Drivers should have their battery, ignition system, lights, exhaust system, defroster and brakes checked, or they should stay alert to potential problems with these systems. Drivers may also want to pack an emergency kit with rations, warm clothing, jumper cables, a flashlight and road flares in case they are stranded due to road conditions, vehicle breakdown or an accident.

Redress after accidents

Unfortunately, these proactive measures may not prevent every accident, especially since other motorists may still engage in risky or reckless habits. Consequently, drivers should be prepared to protect their rights after serious weather-related accidents that other motorists caused by seeking legal advice. An attorney may be able to help a victim document the circumstances of the accident and seek appropriate recourse from the at-fault driver.