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State police urge winter drivers to slow down

ROYALTON — Vermont State Police issued a warning Monday to drivers coping with the slippery combination of snow, sleet and freezing rain to just slow down and use their common sense or face getting a $214 ticket.

Vermont State Police Captain Ray Keefe said that troopers covering the southeastern quarter of Vermont, which includes large portions of interstates 91 and 89, had been inundated with crashes in the past couple of days.

“In one eight-hour shift in Royalton, we had over 15 accidents,” Keefe said, noting that the state police were not responding to all crashes, such as “slide-offs” when there wasn’t injuries or wreckage blocking roads.

People going too fast for the driving conditions can and will be ticketed, Keefe said, saying the ticket starts at $214.

He said he didn’t yet have information about how many tickets had been issued during the storm, but that several motorists had been ticketed .

Keefe said that the driving “wasn’t that bad,” but that people hadn’t made the usual seasonal adjustment to driving in slippery conditions. Many motorists also don’t have snow tires on, Keefe said.

Quebec has mandated motorists have snow tires on their cars as of Dec. 15 in any year, a 2008 law that draws a fine of between $200 and $300, according to news reports. According to studies, since the law went into effect, serious winter accidents resulting in death were down 36 percent.

Keefe said snow tires make a tremendous difference in driving. But he was doubtful Vermont would adopt a similar law because of enforcement issues.

In some cases on Sunday and Monday, the conditions were so slippery, that snow-tireless cars couldn’t even move, he said. The difference in traction between summer and snow tires is “night and day,” he said.

Most of the accidents are on the interstate, he said, because people believe they can maintain high speeds despite the conditions. It’s a combination of over-confidence in their driving ability, and over-confidence in their vehicles, Keefe said.

Many of the accidents involve four-wheel drive vehicles, he said.

Four wheel drive may make it possible for drivers to drive out of a snowbank, but they won’t keep you out of them, he said, if you are driving too fast.

“We see a lot of SUVs flipped over in the median,” Keefe said.

Keefe also said that studded snow tires were not a guarantee of safety either, saying he had covered a fatal accident as a trooper where the studded snow tires were a contributing factor in an icy collision.

The best thing is to simply slow down, he said.

Adding to the problem, he said, is that there are often chain-reactions to accidents, where drivers see the hazard lights, police cruisers and a wrecker, and “overreact.”

“We’ve had many cars (cruisers) hit over the years,” Keefe said.

The snow, sleet and freezing rain had a bigger impact in the eastern section of the state.

Keefe said about 2 inches of snow/sleet fell during the past two days, but that people did not slow down as much as they should. A heavier snowstorm usually is more successful in getting drivers to slow down, he said.

“This is a huge drain on our resources,” he said, saying the entire shift of Troop D was busy responding to the interstate.

People should be going 50 miles an hour if the road is fairly clear, but often they go 65 mph to 80 mph.

“They injure themselves, their passengers, and they put the first responders and local fire department in jeopardy as well. They don’t realize the totality of the situation,” he said.

And Keefe said Good Samaritans who stop to help people involved in crashes should take special care to park their vehicles out of the way, to avoid becoming victims themselves. He said that police did not want to actively discourage people from stopping to help people, since several people have been saved from burning vehicles by Good Samaritans.

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