Winter driving in Colorado has always been difficult. All of the usual problems of driving are so much worse when there is ice on the roads and low visibility. Winter driving also brings the added complication of the usual bad drivers bringing their terrible habits of following too close, not stopping in time, and lane weaving out in the worst possible conditions. I’ve been making short videos for my website about staying safe on the roads, and I’ve put two up that have some great information about assisted braking and tips regarding black ice.
Assisted Braking is Great Assistance
I recently had a chance to experience how amazing technology can be for staying safe while driving in unsavory conditions. On our way back to Denver, my friend and I were driving on I-25 when the car ahead of us stopped short. My friend, who was driving, was awake and paying attention, but when the cars ahead stopped suddenly, the car noticed before he did, and its assisted braking definitely prevented a nasty accident. The car beeped, tightened the seatbelts, and assisted the braking action – offering, what I estimate to be, 50% assistance in stopping. All this helped prevent an accident that may have totaled both cars and caused some serious injuries in addition to closing the highway.
Assisted braking is available in a variety of new cars, and it really should be standard on all new vehicles. The sensors in a car with assisted braking read the distance between your car and the one in front. When the distance between cars shortens suddenly, the assisted braking car engages the brake and other safety features. If the driver is paying attention like my friend was, the braking power of the foot on the brake is assisted by the car’s computer. This technology is a great assistance to safe driving.
Black Ice Defense
Winter driving in Colorado can mean black ice. It forms everywhere, can be hard to see, and is a serious hazard. So you know, Colorado does not have a “black ice defense” for auto accidents. If you cause an accident because of sliding on ice, blaming “black ice” or “road conditions” will get you nowhere. The best defense? Don’t drive when it is icy. If you have to drive, stay multiple car lengths behind the vehicle in front of you and slow down. Those extra car lengths can save you if you start to slide, if the car ahead of you starts to slide, or if a car near you loses control. All the bad habits that give Denver the ranking for 6th WORST drivers in America get worse in bad conditions. You have to drive for the conditions you are in.
CDOT has weather alerts for driving in winter: Traction and Chain Law (code 15 and code 16 respectively). Traction Law means if you have an accident when this alert is on and you don’t have snow tires, 4-wheel/all-wheel drive, or your tires have less than 1/8 inch tread depth, you can be fined. Chain Law alerts happen when conditions are really bad. This alert means passenger vehicles must carry chains or appropriate alternative traction. Both of these alerts can be put into effect at any time, and fines can be up to $650 even if you don’t get in an accident!
Driving in Colorado in the winter doesn’t have to be a miserable experience. Technology like assisted braking and CDOT weather alerts can provide great information but staying safe in winter driving comes down to human decision-making and a responsible attitude. Blowing through a stop sign because you didn’t allow for enough space to stop on ice is all on you. Allowing extra time to get somewhere in winter (despite other people) is just plain smart.
If you have a teen driver, remember that that adding bad weather to inexperience behind the wheel can be a dangerous mix. Keep your new drivers out from behind the wheel until weather conditions return to normal. At least as normal as Denver traffic can be…
Experienced drivers should remember that when area schools call a snow day, there will be an increased number of teen drivers on the road, making that safe distance between yourself and another car even more important. If you do have an accident with a teen driver, try to be kind. They may have never been in an accident before and they are probably scared. Don’t let them off the hook but try to take a moment for kindness.