By the Echo Press Editorial Board

Last Friday through Sunday, Nov. 8-10, there were a total of 27 reported crashes between the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and the Alexandria Police Department.

Saturday's total for the two agencies was 16.

Roads were icy and snowy during this same time period.

Granted, some of the crashes likely could not have been avoided – such as a deer coming out of nowhere. But drivers should be doing a better job.

It seems to happen every year after we get just a light dose of winter. Drivers don’t take precautions or are out of practice for the change of seasons.

According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, speeding and not paying attention are the main causes of crashes. The department advises drivers to follow these safe winter driving tips:

  • Call 511 or visit before leaving on your trip to get current road conditions.

  • Turn on your headlights and wear your seat belt.

  • Turn off your cruise control.

  • Slow down.

Also, don’t tailgate behind other drivers. Safety experts recommend following the 2-second, 4-second and 10-second rule. Find a fixed point on the road, wait until the vehicle ahead of you passes that point and count, “one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three…” If you are on a dry, clear road and you reach the same fixed point before you have said the “two” then you are too close and need to drop further back. If you are on a wet road, you need to have at least a four-second gap and if it’s icy or you are driving on compacted snow, create at least a 10-second gap.

When winter really settles in, drivers should also remember to use caution around snowplows, which travel at much slower speeds than posted because it’s more effective for clearing roads. Also, drivers must rely on mirrors to see the rear and side of the truck. MnDOT recommends to:

  • Be patient, and remember snowplows are working to improve road conditions for your trip.

  • Stay back at least 10 car lengths between your vehicle and a plow. The road behind a snow plow is safer to drive on.

  • Stay alert for snowplows that turn or exit frequently and often with little warning. They may also travel over centerlines or partially in traffic to further improve road conditions.

  • Slow down to a safe speed for current conditions. Snowplows typically move at slower speeds.

  • Never drive into a snow cloud.

There is also “black ice” – invisible ice that is almost totally transparent – to be wary of. It can easily catch drivers off-guard and cause crashes, according to MnDOT.

Black ice forms when the air temperature is warmer than pavement, which causes moisture to rapidly freeze and creates a thin layer of ice on the roadway. MnDOT offers these tips for dealing with black ice.

  • Slow down on bridges, overpasses and tunnels, and in the early morning when the air temperature is rising faster than the pavement temperature.

  • Avoid applying brakes on ice as it may cause a vehicle to skid.

  • Do not use cruise control during winter driving conditions.

  • Use a safe speed for winter driving conditions, regardless of the posted speed limit

  • Keep a safe stopping distance from the vehicle in front of you.

  • Do not use a cell phone while driving and don’t text.

  • Keep both hands on the steering wheel, your eyes on the road and your attention on your driving.

Most drivers, of course, think they’ve got all these safety recommendations down pat – until they find themselves careening out of control in the dead of a winter night. Don’t be that driver. Be prepared.