BONNERS FERRY — The two hours of time spent in a classroom last weekend learning about winter driving from the Boundary County Sheriff’s Office were informative and interactive.
The timing appeared perfect, with the weather providing the first accumulation of snow, as well as ice on the roads, for the class participants to get a real world experience before the class even began.
Both classes — Friday afternoon, Nov. 3, and Saturday morning, Nov. 4, at the National Guard Armory building meeting room — had a good turnout, with 14 participants on Friday and 17 on Saturday, which filled the classroom to capacity.
“More showed up than were signed up,” said Boundary County Sheriff Dave Kramer, who taught the class both days, with the assistance of Boundary County Sheriff Deputy Caleb Watts on Friday and Boundary County Sheriff Chief Deputy Rich Stevens on Saturday.
The participants ranged from new drivers with their learning permits to a lady in her 80s. All levels of driving were represented, showcasing the validity of a class of this nature.
“This is the first time that we have put the class out,” said Kramer, greeting the class. “We have had a few people that signed up and registered, then we had other people that who called and wanted to send their wife, their husband, or significant other. So probably all of you fall into that group someplace.”
Several participants admitted that they attended, not only to improve their winter driving skills, but also to learn how to be a better passenger when riding with their husbands. This brought laughter and nods of agreement from the other students.
Kramer encouraged audience participation, and the class quickly became comfortable, interjecting stories of life experiences or asking questions.
Austin Kemmis, who came with his mother and friend, had his learner’s permit and was going to get his driver’s license soon. “I winter drove for the first time yesterday,” he said.
“We tried to time this class so everyone would have a little practical experience,” Kramer responded, referring to the snow outside, eliciting laughter from the class. “How did we do?”
Another participants said they had been driving in the snow, off and on, for the last 20 years, to which Kramer responded, “Off and on- does that mean that part of the time you were on the roadway?”
The comfortable laughing and joking in the classroom made the learning environment welcoming. The class began with a slide show, provided by a partnership with the Coeur d’Alene Police Department. “They have been doing a winter driving program for a while,” said Kramer.
They also partnered with Les Schwab Tires, who provided free ice scrapers to all those who attended, as well as a coupon for snow tires, and two first aid kits that were raffled off at the end of each class. “It was a great partnership with Les Schwab,” said Kramer. “We appreciate their support.”
The emphasis of the class was safety, not just in winter driving, but all aspects of getting behind the wheel. “Driving is probably the most dangerous thing that most of us do,” said Boundary County Sheriff’s Reserve Sergeant Foster Mayo, who attended the class with his wife.
“I’ve been driving my whole life in this kind of weather,” said Kramer. “You get so that you take things for granted, and I think this is a good refresher for all of us.”
“Crashes are not accidents,” stated Kramer, going on the explain that crashes are something that can be avoided, most of the time, if precautionary steps are taken, the driver is paying attention, and they have the right equipment, such as the correct tires for the weather conditions.
“Slow down” was the reoccurring theme throughout the class. A driver should not drive the speed limit in inclement weather, as they can get cited for traveling at unsafe speeds for the road conditions, if an accident were to occur that could have been prevented by driving at a lower speed.
The class watched videos that taught how to correct for a slide, at the same time watch for the dangers of overcorrection. One example is an oversteer skid that occurs when the rear tires lose grip, causing the rear of the vehicle to start to slide sideways. Oversteer can occur when a driver is going too fast for the conditions, and apply brakes while turning a corner. The response taught in the class was to let off the accelerator or the brakes, depending on which was being used, and steer the front wheels gently in the direction that the driver wishes to be traveling.
Watts also talked about a slow slide, especially when navigating a hill. “Just let off the brake,” he said, “and nine times out of ten, at those speeds between 10 and 20 miles and hour, as soon as you let off the brake, the vehicle is going to straighten back out, because your wheels are going to start turning again.”
The class also covered emergency preparedness, recommending that a vehicle to be stocked with supplies to keep the driver and passengers warm and safe in case of being stranded after an accident, or even the possibility of being stuck in traffic for a long period of time. “We don’t have a lot of optional ways to get from Point A to Point B in Boundary County,” explained Kramer, citing a recent accident that had traffic stopped for approximately two hours.
Participant Rick Bates added a recommendation for the rest of the class, “If you do get stuck and you have to run your engine to stay warm, then make sure that the exhaust system is clear, because if it gets enclosed, the engine will quit before it gets too bad, but you will be dead before then from carbon monoxide.”
Kramer and Watts stressed the importance of visibility, both out of the car and to other drivers, which means clear windows thoroughly, but also check headlights, taillights, and turn indicators to make sure they are free from snow and ice.
“I don’t know how often we will see a vehicle- they have cleared a little spot that they can see through- but the headlights or taillights are obstructed. You don’t want someone rear ending you,” said Kramer. “You want to be seen.”
Watts added that clearing off the top of the vehicle is important as well, so if you come to a stop, all the snow does not fall forward, blocking visibility out of the front windshield.
Some other recommendations including filling the gas tank when it reaches half a tank. Not only does this prevent moisture buildup in the tank due to cold weather, but if a driver gets stuck in traffic due to an accident, they will be able to keep the car running and provide heat.
In summary, the most stressed points were to slow down, keep a large distance from other vehicles to allow time to react to any loss of control, make all accelerations, decelerations and turns slowly and gently, and be prepared in case of emergency.
“I think it was good,” said Kramer about the two classes. “I appreciated that it was a good size class for it. We had some good comments and people hopefully got some good takeaways on the differences between driving in the winter and driving the rest of the year.”
“It’s beautiful out there with the snow, but when driving conditions change, we have to adjust to that, if we want to get there safely,” said Kramer.
Bates gave the class a thumbs up when the class ended, and there were many thanks from the participants as they filtered out the door, ready to take on the snow and ice- slowly.
For more information about winter driving or to view some of the videos that were provided in the class: icyroadsafety.com