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Posted 12/04/13 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

It’s official. With the first snow last week, winter has officially arrived. And with it, comes the knowledge that for the next four to five months in addition to having to deal with the ever increasing traffic on our highways, we now have to add less than perfect driving conditions to our highway safety issue.
Which brings a question to all of the motorists in McKenzie County, and especially our new residents who have moved here from substantially milder winter climates. And that question is, “Are you ready for driving in a North Dakota winter?”
Before you categorically say “yes,” it is important to point out to our new residents that as you have probably found out already, driving the roads in the “oil patch” is quite a bit different than what you may be accustomed to.
First, as everyone knows, we have the amount of traffic on our two-lane roads that elsewhere around the country would be on four- or six-lane highways.
Second, the percentage of big trucks traveling our roadways as compared to passenger vehicles is significantly higher.
Third, we get snow in the winter. And we can get rain in the winter. And we get lots of wind in the winter. And all of those conditions can make for some very dangerous winter driving conditions. If you don’t believe it, ask a North Dakota resident who knows and they will tell you that no matter how badly you want to go somewhere, there are times when the safest place to be is anywhere but on the roads.
If you doubt it, last Wednesday’s six-inch covering of snow was a prime example of how quickly weather can change here in the winter and how quickly road conditions can deteriorate. But don’t take my word for it. Just ask any of the truckers who thought that they could drive up the steep inclines in the Badlands on U.S. Highway 85 without chaining up first. Or ask any of the service vehicle drivers who thought that even when the roads were snow-covered and iced over that they could keep their vehicle on the road, and out of the ditch, when driving 65 mph. Or maybe you could ask some of the drivers who discovered that what should have been a one or two road trip suddenly found themselves backed up in traffic as they waited for a jack-knifed semi to get straightened out or the tow trucks to pull vehicles out of the ditch.
Granted, North Dakota winters can be long and sometimes brutal. North Dakotans know that. They recognize that fact and respect the weather and the road conditions. But more importantly, they adapt their driving to reflect the ever changing road and weather conditions. Sometimes that means driving a lot slower than the speed limit. And it definitely means driving defensively.
Everyone wants to get to where they going as quickly as they can. But arriving at your destination safely needs to be the paramount consideration of every driver this winter.
So to every motorist out there, ask yourself, “Are you ready for driving in a North Dakota winter?”