Officials offer winter driving advice

Alisa Boswell: Portales News-Tribune Big Valley Auto Technician Ysidro Gonzales works under the hood of a truck in his shop. Big Valley Service Manager Billy Bagwell said as winter approaches, people need to take their cars in to be winterized.

Alisa Boswell

Blankets, a flashlight and some nonperishable foods are items drivers should always have in their cars during the winter time, according to auto mechanic and New Mexico Department of Transportation officials.

“Have a blanket and water and snacks in your trunk in case you get stuck or in case you get somewhere where a road is closed due to an accident,” said Phil Gallegos, public information officer for NMDOT.

Portales Big Valley Service Manager Billy Bagwell agreed that supplies are a key factor for winter driving.

Bagwell said along with blankets, a flashlight and food, drivers should also try to keep in their cars some kind of flare and a container of cat litter.

“On ice or snow, it can be poured in front of the tires for traction,” Bagwell said of the cat litter. “Black ice is famous in New Mexico and it’s really hard to get traction on it, so that litter comes in really handy.”

He said a flare is convenient for when a driver gets stuck in a rural area.

Bagwell said along with keeping supplies, it’s important for drivers to make sure their car is “winterized” and properly maintained for winter driving.

“What that (winterized) means is checking the coolant level and checking the freeze protection level of the coolant,” Bagwell said. “And of course, along with the winterization, checking the belt and hoses and checking the radiator to make sure it’s clean. If there’s dirt or debris in it, the exchange of heat doesn’t happen.”

Bagwell said drivers should also check brakes, tires and their exhaust. He said if a vehicle has an exhaust leak, a driver who brakes down will be exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning when running their vehicle to stay warm.

“This all becomes very important in the winter time,” Bagwell said. “Particularly when there’s snow or ice.”

Aside from vehicle maintenance, the other important aspect to winter vehicle safety is how to drive in the winter, according to Gallegos.

“Probably the biggest mistake is not checking conditions before they walk out the door,” Gallegos said. “If you have to go out in that kind of weather, you want to make sure you’re driving at a speed that matches the conditions of the road. In other words, allow more distance between you and the car in front of you.”

Gallegos said now that most vehicles have anti-lock brakes, a driver should not pump the brakes when sliding on the ice but put steady pressure on them. He also said drivers should turn into the slide rather than away from it and most importantly, don’t speed.

“For longer trips, make sure someone knows when you left and where you’re going. That way if you’re overdue, somebody will know about it,” Gallegos said. “Probably the biggest thing to remember when a storm has struck is if you don’t have to go, don’t.”