Safe Winter Driving in Vermont
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Safe Winter Driving in Vermont

by | Nov 12, 2019 | Firm News

While Ernie Patnoe may disagree with this assessment, he became internationally famous with the publication of an article in The New Yorker entitled “Black Ice, Near-Death, and Transcendence on I-91” written by John Seabrook, a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1993. The article was published in the April 9, 2018 issue of the New Yorker and can be found by googling the title of the article. As pointed out in the article, Morristown, Vermont’s own Ernie Patnoe is the overall administrator for the Vermont Department of Transportation maintenance staff of 500 workers, 250 plows and 65 facilities across the State of Vermont and is featured in the article.

The Vermont Department of Transportation, or VTrans as it is commonly known, has a sophisticated system for detecting road surface and subsurface temperatures with infrared, high-end “grip sensors” beamed onto the road surface from nearby poles. As John Seabrook outlines in the article, “Algorithms crunch the date the centers produce to make predictions that the operators in the management center can use to send alerts to any message board in the state, like the one I saw.” But as Patnoe notes in the article: “…once the grip sensors tell us it’s slippery, it’s usually too late. The ice is already weaponized.” As most Vermonters know, black ice is particularly dangerous road surface to drive on.

As you will find out by reading the article, John Seabrook explains how he drove with overconfidence and crashed his truck on I-91. Many Vermonters will agree that some people drive in the winter with overconfidence in all-wheel drive cars and trucks with anti-lock braking systems and other modern safety features on newer vehicles. That overconfidence leads people to drive too fast for conditions and ultimately to sometimes lose control of their vehicles. This seems to be particularly prevalent early in the snow season when Vermonters have to get used to driving in icy and snowy conditions once again. Of course out of staters might be particularly challenged by Vermont’s road conditions simply because they aren’t used to it.

VTrans encourages everyone to slow down, drive smart and exercise good driving habits to avoid crashing their vehicles. In particular, they make the following recommendations:

●Slow down and drive according to the road conditions. Driving too fast is the leading cause of winter crashes.

●Leave more room than usual between vehicles. You will need the extra time and distance to brake safely. Signal early, merge slowly and carefully.

●Brake early and slowly to prevent skidding. Never slam on the brakes on winter roads.

●Do not use cruise control during a storm, don’t overestimate the ability of four-wheel or all-wheel drive, and look out for black ice on what appears to be bare pavement.

●Try to focus and minimize all distractions.

●Look ahead because the actions of other vehicles will alert you to what is happening ahead so that you can react safely and in time.

I’ve lived in Lamoille County for over 47 years and I’m amazed at the incredible job the local towns of Morristown, Hyde Park, Johnson, Cambridge, Eden, Wolcott and Stowe, along with VTrans do maintaining the highways. Although the better practice is to stay off the roads when the conditions are bad, the reality of life is sometimes we must drive and the people that operate our plows do a phenomenal job, given the severity and length of Vermont winters.