ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. --
Driving - whether it be to and from work, school or a leisure activity - is a daily routine for most people.
While distractions and hazards such as boisterous passengers or other vehicles on the road can be dangerous, the weather is one of the most important things to watch for while behind the wheel.
Michael Walter, 28th Bomb Wing Ground Safety office safety and occupational health specialist, said roads can be especially tricky to navigate during winter.
"Drivers should be aware of snow and lots of black ice," Walter said. "The interstates are usually pretty clear, but keep a close eye out for slow-moving snow removal trucks. They usually drive between 10 and 15 miles per hour under the speed limit."
One major component to a safe commute is a well-maintained vehicle. David Roney, 28th Force Support Squadron Auto Hobby manager, said there are several items on a car that drivers should pay special attention to during cold weather.
"Antifreeze needs to be checked to make sure it's at the correct density," Roney explained. "Your tires and battery also need to be in good condition. Exhaust can also be a problem if it isn't working properly, since the windows will be rolled up and the fumes can get in the car."
Walter said allowing extra travel time and informing someone of your planned route and expected time of arrival are important steps to take during adverse driving conditions. He added defensive driving can also be a lifesaver.
"People should watch out for the other drivers on the road," Walter cautioned. "Because we're a military unit, we do get people up here who have never driven in snow, and it takes them a while to get it down. You could be the most experienced person when it comes to driving in snow and on ice, but it still takes a season or two to get used to it."
Although a driver may take all of the proper precautions, accidents do happen. Roney said keeping a survival kit handy can help keep a bad situation from getting worse.
"Bags of sand are good things to have in case you get stuck," Roney explained. "Make sure you have a little shovel, blankets and food that won't freeze, like crackers. A coffee can, or something to hold a candle, is also a good idea so you can have a source of heat and a way to melt snow for water."
Roney said his shop, open to anyone who has access to the base, has available brochures that list services offered and the prices for the various checkups and repairs they offer. He encourages drivers to keep in mind year-round vigilance is key to making it through the winter safely.
"Regular maintenance is important," Roney said. "If you don't take care of your vehicle it may not make it through the winter."
Travelers should also take into account that their commute doesn't end when they turn off the engine. Walter said drivers should wear proper clothing and maintain situational awareness while walking through parking lots or to buildings.
"The winter months always seem to drive our mishaps higher in slips, trips and falls," Walter said. "A lot of people, specifically on Mondays, don't wear appropriate footwear for snow and ice. Building entrances can be slick and there may or may not be a mat there to wipe your feet on."
Walter said Ground Safety distributes mishap prevention information to units on base in an effort to keep the number of accidents as low as possible. He added contributing to the safety of the base population is one of the most rewarding aspects of his job.
"I enjoy it - it's who I am, it's what I do," Walter said. "We're a family at Ellsworth, and if somebody doesn't show up to work because they're hurt it affects the rest of us both personally and professionally. If we can prevent just one mishap, it makes me happy."
Updated road and weather condition information can be obtained by calling (605) 385-ROAD (7623), or visiting www.ellsworth.af.mil
For more information on winterizing a vehicle, call Auto Hobby at (605) 385-2900.