IDOT offers tips on winter driving
There’s an unmistakable chill in the air as fall slowly creeps into winter. Keeping roads in their best shape to ensure you get where you want to go, no matter the season is our goal at the Iowa Department of Transportation. As the weather changes, our focus is keeping the roads as clear as possible and giving you the information you need to make smarter, safer travel decisions.
• Winterize your vehicle - To minimize the possibility of a breakdown, get your vehicle tuned up. Check your vehicle’s wipers, hoses, battery, alternator, belts, tires, brakes, exhaust system, lights, and fluid levels. Make sure your vehicle’s heater and defroster are in good working order and you travel with plenty of gas in your tank. A breakdown is frustrating on a good day but can be dangerous during wintery weather.
• Place a winter survival kit in your vehicle - This kit should contain items to help sustain your life and the lives of your passengers should your vehicle become stranded during inclement weather. These items can include booster cables; a flashlight with fresh batteries; extra blankets and warm clothes; nonperishable, high-calorie food items; candles, matches, a can for melting snow for drinking water, and a snow shovel. Sufficient supplies should be in the kit for all persons traveling in the vehicle. Carrying a mobile phone and charger in your vehicle is also advised for use during an emergency.
• Use technology to help make better travel decisions - The winter road conditions layer is now visible on www.511ia.org. This layer, along with layers that show images directly from the windshields of our snowplows and stationary cameras along the roadside, can help you determine whether it is safe to travel now or if you should postpone your trip.
Kick your winter driving skills into gear - The first snowfall and slick roads are a quick reminder that it’s time to re-evaluate and adjust your driving behaviors.
• Wear your seat belt. Every trip, every time.
• Turn off the cruise control. Cruise control does not allow you to let off the accelerator if you hit a slick spot, making it more difficult to maintain control of your vehicle.
• Adjust your speed for conditions. Speed limits are set for ideal driving conditions. Winter weather can create hazards that require slower speeds. Remember these simple slogans, “Ice and Snow … Take It Slow” and “Don’t Crowd the Plow.”
• Take it easy. On slick pavements your driving maneuvers need to be gradual and smooth, so you do not skid or spin. Change lanes or turn with graceful movements, begin braking sooner gently increasing pressure on the pedal, and give yourself more room around other cars to allow for everyone’s reduced ability to stop or maneuver.
The Iowa Department of Transportation has 101 maintenance garages employing 1,083 full-time equipment operators, mechanics, and supervisors, and are in the process of hiring up to 633 temporary employees this winter season, to keep the agency's 902 trucks, 42 motor graders, 32 tow plows, and 10 heavy-duty, self-propelled snowblowers on the road during winter weather.
The DOT has spent the warmer months stocking salt in our storage facilities for use during the winter. Buying during the spring and summer allows us to obtain better pricing because demand is low. On average, the Iowa DOT uses more than 144,00 tons of salt and nearly 33 million gallons of brine each year to help maintain safe travel on the primary highway system, consisting of interstate, U.S., and Iowa routes.
The DOT primarily uses salt brine, a simple solution of standard rock salt and water, to help with winter roadway maintenance. It can be used to pretreat roadways before a storm, thus preventing snow and ice from bonding to the pavement. Brine is also used to prewet salt before it leaves the truck, increasing its ability to melt snow and ice and helping keep it on the roadway surface.
For those who wonder why Iowa DOT trucks sometimes spray brine on sunny days, frost is a major safety factor this time of year. The DOT’s proactive approach of spraying brine on areas prone to frost prevents the formation of an icy layer, which typically occurs on cold, clear nights. Frost is hard to see on the road’s surface and most people don’t expect it. These unexpected encounters with a frost-covered bridge or roadway can be particularly treacherous when traveling at higher rates of speed, making it more difficult to maintain control of your vehicle.
For more information about winter preparedness and the Iowa DOT's snow and ice control program, check the Iowa DOT's winter safety website, iowadot.gov/maintenance/winter-operations/winter-travel-information.