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Winter Driving 101: Tips, tricks and warnings for surviving icy roads

BEMIDJI -- It’s the time of year when multi-ton vehicles turn into oversized bobsleds as they slide haphazardly either to their destination or the ditch.  

With one of the first measurable snowfalls of the season Thursday, combined with a fair amount of rain beforehand, the roads became somewhat precarious. And thus, it turned into the time of year when the state collectively needs to relearn how to drive in the winter weather.

“It seems to be a learning curve that everybody goes through,” Beltrami County Chief Deputy Ernie Beitel said about driving in the beginning of the winter season. “We respond to accidents every day, but there’s always that increase with that first onset of bad road conditions.”

The sheriff’s office either responded to, or assisted other agencies with, eight traffic accidents on Wednesday.

The roads also were still slick into Thursday. An accident late Thursday morning in Clearwater County was attributed to slick roads as a car left the road and vaulted over a private driveway. Both the driver and passenger suffered non-life threatening injuries and were transported to Sanford in Bagley.

The Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety provides a number of safety tips for drivers to observe. Several might be fairly obvious. They include tips such as avoiding unnecessary travel in poor conditions and increasing the distance between vehicles. And slow down.

“A lot of it is common sense,” Beitel said.

Road conditions can be checked by calling 5-1-1 or visiting

The list also includes tips that may not be quite as obvious: ease off the break if you skid and steer in the direction you want to go; don’t pump anti-lock braking systems (ABS); don’t use cruise control on slippery roads. Use headlights in snow or sleet conditions to be seen better by other drivers.

In addition to avoiding the ditch, though, there’s also tips that should help those unfortunate enough to find themselves sitting on the side of the road.  

For example, drivers should stay in their vehicle if stranded.

Drivers are recommended to have a few essentials in their vehicles, such as a shovel, jumper cables, tow chain, as well as a bag of sand or cat litter for traction.

There’s also the fact that parts of the county are outside cellular service. Because of that, Beitel said it’s sometimes wise for drivers to call a friend and let them know where they’re going and what route they’ll be on.  

“It helps us narrow down the search to go and find them,” Beitel said.

Jordan Shearer

Jordan Shearer covers crime and social issues for the Bemidji Pioneer. A Rochester native and Bemidji State grad, he previously spent several years in western Nebraska writing for the Keith County News. Follow him on Twitter @Jmanassa

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