Driving lesson

A tough lesson in winter driving

An exceptionally harsh winter finally loosens its grip. But it entered a dangerous freeze-thaw phase that wreaked tragic havoc. Seven young lives were lost in two vehicle collisions on icy roads – three on the highway. 3 on the edge of Northfield on February 28, four on the highway. 14 near Sleepy Eye on March 7.

The grief in Northfield is centered at Carleton College, where the five occupants of a vehicle that slid into an oncoming tractor-trailer were students. Three died; two were seriously injured. In Sleepy Eye, only one of the five friends in the car that slid into an oncoming van survived. He was the driver, Kansas Adams; his brother Payton Adams was among the four dead.

These are the kinds of accidents that liven up the nightmares of parents in Minnesota. They should give every Minnesota driver a shiver of warning. As State Patrol Information Officer Lt. Eric Roeske said after the Sleepy Eye accident: “This tragedy and the tragedy of last week outside Northfield illustrate that at wrong time and in the wrong place, the simple act of losing control on an icy road can be absolutely devastating.We cannot stress enough the importance of being aware of the driving conditions and adjusting your driving accordingly.

We will follow his example. As difficult as it is to dwell on these tragedies, we hope Minnesotans will keep a few things in mind:

• If you don’t have to drive, don’t. Modern vehicles and road maintenance tactics give some drivers the illusion that they can safely navigate any road at any time. Minnesotans have seen this year that winter can still overcome the best of those advances. The desire to take the wheel for less than imperative reasons must be questioned.

• If you must drive, fasten your seat belt. Seat belts do not guarantee safety. But they improve the chances of surviving an accident. The two recent accidents illustrate these two points. Those in Northfield died despite wearing seat belts. In Sleepy Eye, the sedan driver who crossed the center line was belted out and survived. His rear passengers were not, and all died.

Minnesotans are buckling up in greater numbers than ever, according to the latest tally. But the National Security Council has identified populations whose use of seatbelts is lagging behind (see accompanying text).

•To slow down. Throughout this winter, state patrol advisories have included calls for drivers to slow down. Speed ​​- not above the posted limit, but beyond what caution dictates – is the biggest contributor to winter accidents. It’s a small mistake that can be costly.

This winter has tested the driving skills of Minnesotans like few others have. That should prompt questions about whether the driver training regimen required prior to licensing is sufficient to meet the challenges of Minnesota’s weather. And that should redouble every driver’s resolve to respect the weather – and to be safe out there.