Routt County is expecting more heavy snow. Here’s how to drive safely. |

Routt County is expecting more heavy snow. Here’s how to drive safely.

A vehicle drives down U.S. Highway 40. As Routt County expects more heavy snow, public safety officials remind drivers to be vigilant.
Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today

As snow continues to blanket the Yampa Valley and visitors flock to the area, Routt County public safety officials are urging drivers to be extra vigilant on the slick, icy roadways.

According to data from Routt County Communications, Steamboat Springs police have responded to 38 calls for snow-related car crashes and drivers getting stuck in snow or sliding off the road over the past four days. Meanwhile, the Routt County Sheriff’s Office has responded to 26 snow-related incidents.

Colorado State Patrol did not have a readily available number for how many snow-related incidents state troopers handled over the past several days, but State Patrol Sgt. Scott Elliott estimated that number would be high.

Though weather-related vehicle incidents occur in all parts of Routt County, Elliott estimated a majority of slide-offs and crashes occur on the stretches of U.S. Highway 40 between Hayden and Steamboat and on Rabbit Ears Pass between Steamboat and Kremmling.

Elliott called for the closure of Rabbit Ears Pass on Monday because the winds were so extreme, most drivers could not see anything around them.

“We don’t close it just because it’s snowing,” Elliott said. “We’re all used to the snow; it’s not a big deal — it’s when you can’t see anything, and it’s so hard for everyone on the roadway.”

Skyler McKinley, regional director of public affairs for AAA Colorado, recommended those traveling during adverse conditions should slow down and drive at least eight seconds behind the vehicles in front of them. Motorists new to driving in snow should drive at least 12 seconds behind the cars in front of them, McKinley added.

“It is just unsafe to drive as quickly as you would in dry conditions,” McKinley said.

When starting a vehicle, McKinley said, drivers should slowly accelerate, rather than jamming down on the gas. Likewise, if a vehicle starts to skid, drivers should avoid slamming on the brake.

“You don’t want to do anything suddenly with icy or snowy conditions because it’s going to be more dramatic,” McKinley said of the car’s reaction. “If you lose traction, and you begin to skid, the most important thing you can do is stay calm.”

Though road closures are rare, the Colorado Department of Transportation often implements traction laws on state highways in the wintertime.

Communications manager on the Western Slope for the Colorado Department of Transportation Elise Thatcher explained that those traction laws are in place to minimize the number of crashes and slide-offs, which, in turn, helps keep the roads open.

“We want to keep the roads open as much as possible,” Thatcher said.

CDOT works with local law enforcement agencies to determine when a road should be closed. Some considerations include whether whiteout conditions are too dangerous, whether the winds are too extreme or if it would be too difficult to navigate around a crash without causing another wreck, Thatcher said.

Additionally, state traction laws are always active on Interstate 70 from Dotsero to Morrison from September through May after Gov. Jared Polis signed a law requiring extra safety protocols on the highway.

Looking at the local roads, Routt County Undersheriff Doug Scherar said the Sheriff’s Office responds to more slide-offs than crashes.

While slide-offs are not concentrated in specific locations, they occur mostly on unplowed roads and with vehicles that do not have proper tires, according to Scherar.

“A lot of times, we see people in a ditch, and they have bald or summer tires on their vehicle that aren’t adequate for driving in snowy conditions,” Scherar said.

Drivers who slide off or crash during a snowstorm are required to contact law enforcement if any damage was done to the vehicle, even if no other vehicles were involved.

Law enforcement can issue a ticket for reckless driving or improper mountain driving. Those who do not report wrecks could be charged with failure to report or leaving the scene of an accident, which Scherar said are much more serious offenses.

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