Vehicle towed out of the ditch in a winter storm

Law enforcement representatives say if drivers end up in a ditch during the winter, they should get out of their vehicles as little as possible.

Minnesota, sweet Minnesota, where the snow falls for hours on end and roads are slick with ice. Stay safe on your commute with these tips.

1. Know the weather.

Thanks to smartphones, weather information is just a click away. It’s important to be aware before you head out on the roads, Scott County Sheriff Luke Hennen said. Having a reliable weather app is a good way to gauge how much time you’ll need.

The National Weather Service and other forecasters also update their websites, Twitter and other social media pages often. 

2. Plan ahead.

If you need to be somewhere at a certain time, plan ahead so you aren’t rushing. Be aware of traffic conditions and weather. Give yourself extra time so you can drive safely to your destination, State Trooper Lt. Gordon Shank said.

3. Stay in your vehicle.

If you do end up in a ditch or on the side of the road, “don’t get out more than you have to,” Shank said. If you need to go outside the vehicle for any reason, such as to clear snow or ice out of the exhaust pipe, do it quickly and stay aware of your surroundings.

4. Buckle your seat belt.

Whether your driving or sitting on the side of the road, you should always have your seat belt buckled. On the shoulder you’re at risk for not being seen by passing vehicles. When roads are slippery a vehicle could potentially slip and hit you, Shank said.

5. Slow down.

Roads are covered with snow and ice, yet “people forget that we need to slow down,” Jordan Police Chief Brett Empey said. Top-notch brakes and 4-wheel drive won’t help you stop in time if you or a vehicle in front of you slips on ice.

Always drive according to the conditions, even if that means going slower than the speed limit.

6. Give people space.

When road conditions are dangerous, it’s extra important to give drivers extra distance, Shank said. Drivers will hit their brakes for crashes, slow drivers, snowplows and many other reasons. You need to give yourself extra time to respond, he said.

7. Merge over.

When possible, always merge over a lane for vehicles, snowplows and emergency vehicles sitting on the side of the road, Hennen said. If you cannot merge, you should drastically slow down for them.

8. Call authorities.

If you crash your vehicle, go into the ditch or are stuck on the side of the road, call local authorities. “It never hurts to call if you see someone on the side of the road,” Empey said. They could be hurt and unable to call themselves.

Lydia Christianson is a digital reporter for Southwest News Media. She graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Minnesota. When not reporting, she enjoys reading in coffee shops, listening to podcasts, and checking out new restaurants.

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