You’re not invincible in a 4×4

Published 12:21 pm Saturday, December 27, 2008

It was a trip to remember.

Last weekend I was headed to the Cities for some time with family, to watch a little college football and then to tag along with my nephews and my sisters to Breakfast with Santa in Edina.

Most of the weekend was fine, but the beginning was a little rough.

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For one, it seemed like quite a few people were on the road as the snow came down, the wind blew and the temperatures dropped. And by late Saturday morning, visibility rapidly grew worse, leaving I-90 and I-35 a total mess.

It took my sister and I nearly four hours to drive 90 miles.

Cars and trucks were bashed, and some motorists became stranded for a time.

This experience got me thinking.

What do you do if your vehicle goes into a ditch?

First of all, the best scenario is to not get stuck in the first place. Driving slowly in a snowstorm may seem like common sense, but to many, that’s not the case. Motorists with four-wheel-drive vehicles especially seem to think they are invincible.

“The vast majority of people who have gone off the road have gone way too fast,” said Officer Todd Zynda, Minnesota State Trooper for Mower and Freeborn counties. If you were going 35 mph and you went in the ditch, 35 was too fast.”

Zynda also said that the safest place to be if you do end up in a ditch is in your vehicle with your seat belt on, just in case another vehicle slides off and hits you.

Then, if you have a cell phone, use it to call 9-1-1 or to call a tow truck. If you don’t have a cell phone, stay put until help arrives.

“Through experience, if you don’t have (a cell phone), someone is going to call you in,” Zynda said. “We find out there are plenty of people who are willing to call 9-1-1 and report vehicles off the roadway. However, I think that person without a cell phone has become an extreme minority.”

In addition, Zynda said it’s a good idea to keep emergency supplies in your vehicle, including extra clothing such as boots, gloves and blankets.

“It also doesn’t hurt to have a duffle bag with non-perishable food and drinks of that nature and a cell-phone charger,” Zynda said.

Winter on paper may follow a calendar, but the snow, the ice and the cold temperatures don’t.

The harsh-driving conditions can begin as early as October and continue well into the spring.

By following these instructions, using common sense and by driving slowly when necessary, hopefully we’ll all have a safe couple of months and be ready for the heat wave of 50 degrees come April.