ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. – One of the adventures for military families is exploring new places every few years. With each permanent change of station move comes new sights, sounds and climates in which to acclimate.
For those new to Rock Island Arsenal, the winter here may be an experience you never had before. While a large portion of Army installations are located in warmer climates, RIA’s little spot in the middle of the Mississippi River between Illinois and Iowa may be the first time you will engage in the fun of Midwest winter driving.
Driving in snowy and icy conditions shouldn’t freeze you with fear, however. With just a little preparedness, and an appreciation for the elements you will be navigating in, staying safe on winter roads is a skill you can master.
According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, the biggest thing to remember is Midwest weather is unpredictable and can change very quickly; therefore patience and preparedness are key.
IDOT encourages drivers throughout the winter, and especially during adverse conditions, to build extra time into their schedules to allow for reduced speeds while driving. Slow and steady is the safest way to approach driving, they say.
“Slow down,” IDOT experts advise. “Slower speeds, slower acceleration, slower steering and slower braking are all required in winter driving conditions.”
This is especially important on the multiple bridges in the area, as well as overpasses and exit ramps. Be particularly careful approaching intersections, ramps, bridges and shady areas. All are prone to icing and “black ice” on roads that appears clear can be treacherous.
Alex Dinkla, Iowa State Patrol public information officer, agrees.
"Whenever you come across slick areas like exits and overpasses, slow down and pay attention before you get to that area, and avoid sudden braking,” he says. “That's when we see a lot of crashes."
Once slower speed is factored into safe driving, there are multiple other things drivers should consider to ensure they arrive alive to their destination. Use these tips from IDOT and ISP to protect yourself and other drivers on the road this winter.
• Drop it and drive. Put down the handheld devices. It is illegal in Illinois to drive while using a handheld device, and Iowa's distracted driving law prohibits motorists from using a handheld electronic communication device to write, send, or view an electronic message while driving. It is also prohibited to use a handheld device while driving on RIA.
• Get your motor running. For a list of suggested winter preparation and maintenance for your car, visit the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s winter driving website https://www.nhtsa.gov/winter-driving-tips.
• Keep things clear. Scrape snow and ice off windows and windshields to ensure full visibility. Also remove snow accumulation from the tops of vehicles to avoid it flying off onto other cars while on the road.
• Practice automotive distancing. Increase following distance. Put five to six seconds of time between you and the vehicle you're following – especially snow plows – and don’t crowd the plow. A snowplow operator’s field of vision is restricted. You may see them, but they may not see you.
• Move over. Slow down and move over for stopped emergency, construction and maintenance vehicles.
• Light up. Turn on headlights - it's critical to both see and be seen on snowy and foggy days. Remove snow from headlights and taillights before you drive.
• Pack your bag. Prepare an emergency kit that contains jumper cables, flares or reflectors, windshield washer fluid, a small ice scraper, traction material, blankets, non-perishable food and a first-aid kit. Carry a cell phone and a car charger in case of emergency.
• Get the 411. Before leaving the house, drivers are encouraged to check GettingAroundIllinois.com for continually updated information on winter road conditions, weather radars, road and bridge closures and other traffic-related information. You can also follow IDOT on Facebook and Twitter for updates on travel throughout the winter.
• Get the 511. The Iowa DOT has a 511 smartphone application to meet the growing trend of information on mobile devices called "Iowa 511." The application works on smartphones and tablets that operate on the iPhone and Android platforms and provides statewide, real-time traffic information. Visit https://iowadot.gov/511/ for more information.
• Yes, blizzards happen, so be ready. If you are stranded during car travel, stay in your car. Only leave the car if help is visible within 100 yards. You may become disoriented and lost in blowing and/or drifting snow. Display a trouble/distress sign by hanging a brightly colored cloth on the antenna or out the window. Turn on the car's engine for about 10 minutes each hour. Run the heater when the car is running. Also, turn on the car's dome light when the car is running. Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning. Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow, and open a downwind window slightly for ventilation. Do minor exercises to keep up circulation. Clap hands and move arms and legs occasionally. Do not stay in one position for too long. If more than one person is in the car, take turns sleeping. For warmth, huddle together. Use newspapers, maps, and even the removable car mats for added insulation.
Family, Morale, Recreation and Welfare on RIA also offers appointments with trained auto technicians at the Auto Service Center for those wishing to learn more about tips for winter driving, or have their automobile inspected to ensure it is ready for winter weather conditions. For more information and appointments, call 309-782-8631, Tuesday-Thursday from 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.