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Tips for winter travel

three jars.jpg
Maryland's road dressing: Sugar beet molasses, rock salt and salt brine. Mix beets and brine for anti-icing treatment, then spread salt on top after the snow falls. (Thomson)

On Sunday's Commuter page in The Post, I reviewed the plans our local transportation agencies have developed for attacking the ice and snow before it attacks us. One new element in Maryland's arsenal is beet juice. in a pilot project, the State Highway Administration will be combining sugar beet molasses with salt brine to make the anti-icing treatment stick to the roads better. You can see more details here.

But let's get beyond what the agencies are doing and talk today about what you can do to help yourself in traffic and transit.

Don't crowd the plow. A veteran plow driver in Maryland noted that the beet juice spray -- which smells like cigarette butts and strong coffee -- is just one more incentive for motorists to stay well back of snow-fighting equipment. What's the point of trying to get ahead of trucks that are making the road behind them safer to use? Also, a plow operator has blind spots, especially behind and to the left. They may need to stop or move quickly left to avoid a stranded vehicle. Plows moving in high winds can create a snow cloud, severely limiting visibility.

Before driving. Get the snow or ice off the vehicle, including the roof. Be sure of the battery charge, wiper blades, tires, tire jack, antifreeze and lights. Keep the gas tank at least half-full.

Carry an emergency kit that includes a small shovel; a bag of rock salt, sand or cat litter; a scraper and brush; a flashlight with extra batteries; jumper cables; blankets; and a first-aid kit.

When driving. Don't use cruise control, allow extra room for stopping distance, turn your lights on, know the condition of your brakes and be aware that road conditions can change quickly. Stick with the main roads as long as you can rather than detouring onto secondary routes. It's the main roads that will get the most attention from plows and emergency vehicles.

In Metro. While waiting on outdoor Metrorail platforms, remember this is our first winter in which the trains are required to pull to the front of the platform, exposing more of the train -- and more of you -- to the elements. Platform paving tiles can be slippery.

By Robert Thomson  |  November 30, 2009; 9:10 AM ET
Categories:  Driving , Metro , Safety , Weather , transit  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, winter weather  
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Oh, no! Not the molasses stuff!

I went to college in Western Massachusetts, and in an attempt to be environmentally friendly, during the worst winter in 20 years, in the Berkshires, they used the molasses stuff to de-ice our sidewalks and roads.

The end result was mud everywhere that stank of molasses and was twice as foul as normal mud -- and that ruined so many pairs of shoes and pants that we lost count. And it was extra-slippery and gooey going down the ice-free hills.

Posted by: EtoilePB | November 30, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse

"Get the snow or ice off the vehicle, including the roof. "

A thousand times this. You cannot stress this enough, sir--it's the most common piece of winter driving idiocy I see here.

Posted by: stevis23 | November 30, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Keep a closer eye out for pedestrians! Many sidewalks are impassable and many pedestrians end up walking in roadways. Also, because of slippery conditions, it can take pedestrians longer to cross a street. Leave ample stopping time when approaching crosswalks and intersections.

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | November 30, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

I agree 100% with "stevis23." Chunks of ice flying off roofs are extremely annoying and dangerous. Unfortunately, a lot of drivers around here have the mentality of first-graders who think it looks neat to see the ice flying through the air.

A point I would add to the list: If your car has antilock brakes and you're not familiar with their operation, learn how they work. Go to a big empty parking lot (the one at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, or the one at WT Woodson High in Fairfax, would be good ones) on a wet day, accelerate, and then slam hard on the brakes to learn how it feels when the antilock function takes over. I've had several friends who thought that the vibration and the chattering noise from the brake pedal meant that they were doing something wrong, so they let up on the pedal. That's precisely what you're not supposed to do--the chatter and vibration are caused because an antilock system pumps the brakes far faster than even the best driver can do. When you feel that, it's your car doing what it's designed to do!

Posted by: 1995hoo | November 30, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Agreed with stevis23, ESPECIALLY if you're driving something taller than your average sedan (yes, minivan drivers, I am talking to you)! Ice comes flying at our windshields on the highways and it's dangerous -- at the least it can block our sightlines, at worst it can actually crack the glass.

Posted by: | November 30, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

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