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An Echo Press Editorial: Icy roads can lead to big trouble

By the Echo Press Editorial Board

Slippery road
In a short amount of time, roads can become snow covered and very slippery.
Alexandria Echo Press file photo
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Here’s a dangerous combination that needs more attention: Icy roads and stranded motorists.

Earlier this month, a 36-year-old man was killed when he was struck by a pickup while standing outside his disabled car in Wright County.

The Minnesota State Patrol reported that roads were icy at the time of the incident. It was Minnesota’s first reported traffic fatality of 2023 and should serve as an urgent reminder of the risks winter weather brings.

“At only three days into the New Year, with plenty of winter weather ahead of us, this crash highlights the need for every motorist to practice good driving behavior,” said Meredith Mitts, public affairs specialist for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “In the winter, there are extra precautions drivers can and should take, but one thing remains consistent year round: If you see a disabled vehicle on the side of the road, slow down and move over.”

Mitts added that motorists are struck and killed on the roadside in preventable crashes all the time.

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“On average, one tow truck driver is killed every other week, while working on the roadside. However, the victims also include stranded motorists just like we saw here Jan. 3. Nationwide, nearly 350 people are struck and killed outside disabled vehicles each year.”

Drivers in Douglas County were also impacted by the icy conditions on Jan. 3. In that one-day period, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, Alexandria Police Department and Osakis Police Department responded to 16 crashes or vehicles that ended up in the ditch.

AAA provides the following advice to protect roadside workers and stranded motorists.

For drivers:

Remain alert. Avoid distractions and focus on driving.

Keep an eye out for emergency vehicles – including tow trucks – that have their lights on as well as cars that have their flashers on. Move over one lane when you see them and if you can’t move over, slow down to safely pass them.

Be a good passenger. Help identify roadway issues and remind the driver to slow down and move over.

Watch for people on the roadside. People may be in or near a disabled vehicle. Just because you don’t immediately see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

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For stranded motorists:

Pull as far over on the shoulder as safely possible to create more distance between your vehicle and passing traffic.

Turn your hazard lights on so other drivers are aware you are there.

If you are able to safely make it to the next exit or stopping point, do so.

Call for assistance via phone, website or the AAA Mobile app.

Remain with your vehicle as long as it’s safe to do so.

If getting out of your vehicle, watch the oncoming traffic for a good time to exit, and remain alert and close to your vehicle. Avoid turning your back to traffic whenever possible.

Other winter driving tips from AAA:

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Before starting out, remove ice and snow from the entire care, mirrors and lights so you have clear driving visibility.

Don’t use cruise control in precipitation and freezing temperatures.

Remember that four-wheel drive helps you get going quicker, but it won’t help you stop any faster.

Always drive at the speed that matches the prevailing visibility, traffic and road conditions – even if that means driving below the posted speed limit.

Compensate for reduced traction by increasing your following distances (normally three to four seconds) to eight to 10 seconds.

Allow sufficient room for maintenance vehicles and plows, stay at least 200 feet back and, if you need to pass, go to the other vehicle’s left. (Never pass a plow.)

Watch for icy surfaces on bridges and intersections, even if the rest of the road seems to be in good condition.

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