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Smart Talk is a daily, live, interactive program featuring conversations with newsmakers and experts in a variety of fields and exploring a wide range of issues and ideas, including the economy, politics, health care, education, culture, and the environment.  Smart Talk airs live every week day at 9 a.m. on WITF’s 89.5 and 93.3.

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Host: Scott LaMar

Smart Talk: How to drive safely during the winter

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | Jan 8, 2014 3:25 PM

What to look for on Smart Talk Thursday, January 9, 2014:

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Last Thursday - January 2 -- three to eight inches of snow fell on most of the south central Pennsylvania region.  It was a light, fluffy snow that seems to be slipperier than usual when its on the roads, highways, or sidewalks.

Thursday also was first day back on the job after the holidays for many of us, meaning there were more cars on the roads.  

However, what may have made last week's storm more hazardous than others of its size was the timing.  Snow began falling and was heaviest in the late afternoon when most motorists were on their way home.

As a result, there were dozens -- maybe hundreds -- of accidents on slippery roads.  Traffic was moving slowly even on the interstate highways, except for that occasional driver who thought they still could drive 65 miles per hour in the passing lane.

That night and the next day, we heard many stories about bad driving conditions and stunts pulled by other drivers.

It got us wondering here at Smart Talk about winter driving, including how to drive safely, and Penndot's strategies for snow removal and keeping the roads clear from snow and ice.

We'll address those topics on Thursday's program with Penndot District 8 executives Mike Keiser and Rich Roman and Trooper Adam Reed of the Pennsylvania State Police. 

Take a look at Penndot's Winter Services Guide here.

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Left to Right: Trooper Adam Reed, Mike Keiser, Rich Roman                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Here's a release from Penndot on winter driving:

Winter Driving Awareness Week Encourages Safe Driving, Preparation


Harrisburg – Although Pennsylvania is heading for a January thaw, safe winter driving skills will be called on again soon, and as part of the state’s first Winter Driving Awareness Week, PennDOT is asking all drivers to be ready.


Winter Driving Awareness Week, Jan. 12-18, highlights the need for motorists to keep safety in mind throughout the winter season.


“During Winter Driving Awareness Week I’m asking all motorists to do their part to help increase safety for all drivers this winter season,” PennDOT Secretary Barry J. Schoch said. “Safety begins before drivers even leave home by ensuring that vehicles are properly equipped and mechanically ready to deal with winter driving challenges.”


"While we have this temporary respite from winter weather, motorists should have their vehicle serviced now by a mechanic they trust," Schoch added. "A properly trained mechanic can check the cooling system, battery, hoses, drive belts, tires and wiper blades to ensure they are in good condition and functioning properly."

Motorists should frequently check all fluid levels, lights and wiper blades. Tires should also be checked often for the correct level of air pressure and adequate tire-tread depth to perform on ice and snow.


Now is also a good time for motorists to prepare a vehicle emergency kit. The kit should contain items such as non-perishable food, water, first-aid supplies, warm clothes, a blanket, cell phone charger and a small snow shovel. Additionally, motorists should tailor their kits to any specific needs that they or their families have such as baby supplies, extra medication and pet supplies.


When winter weather does make a return appearance, PennDOT asks drivers to be extra cautious around operating snow-removal equipment. When encountering a plow truck, drivers should:


  • Stay at least six car lengths behind an operating plow truck and remember that the main plow is wider than the truck.


  • Be alert since plow trucks generally travel much more slowly than other traffic.


  • When a plow truck is traveling toward you, move as far away from the center of the road as is safely possible, and remember that snow can obscure the actual snow plow width.


  • Never try to pass or get between several trucks plowing side by side in a "plow train." The weight of the snow thrown from the plow can quickly cause smaller vehicles to lose control, creating a hazard for nearby vehicles.


  • Never travel next to a plow truck since there are blind spots where the operator can't see and they can occasionally be moved sideways when hitting drifts or heavy snowpack.


  • Keep your lights on to help the operator better see your vehicle. Also remember that under Pennsylvania state law, vehicle lights must be on every time a vehicle's wipers are on due to inclement weather.


For more information on safe winter travel as well as PennDOT’s winter operations, visit


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  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-01-09 09:16

    Thomas emails:

    I suggest to my friends that they drive in a vacant lot covered in snow to learn the limits and behaviors of their individual cars in adverse conditions. would you suggest the same?

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-01-09 09:16

    Dave in Red Lion emails:

    I do not understand why snow fences are no longer used.
    To dispatch a plow and salt to these individual locations are absurd,paid time,fuel,salt wear and tear not to mention the period of time that a hazardous condition persist.
    And I'm sure that no matter how careful you the driver are.
    If you come up on one of these drifts and lose control.
    For certain you'll get a citation.
    Or- why not put up a uniform permanent fence,through penndot or what ever govt entity surveys and locate these persistent sites and take appropriate action.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-01-09 09:34

    Donna emails:

    I've heard that an area near Pittsburgh is going to experiment with red beet juice as a de-icer or road preparation.

    What is the idea of this treatment?

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-01-09 09:34

    Chet in Lititz emails:

    I'm listening to your show today, and I have a question that I've wanted to ask for a long time concerning winter road maintenance.

    I grew up in NH, and whenever there was a snow storm, no matter how big or small, there were plow trucks assigned to specific areas to keep those roads clear. Ahead of the storm they would salt the roads, during the storm they would continually plow to keep the roads clear for traffic, and then, as necessary, they would sand (or a sand/salt mixture) the roads to give immediate grip on roads that might have slick spots.

    Since having moved to PA, I've noticed that they seem to take a different approach. It seems to me that most roads don't get plowed until after the storm is over, if they get plowed at all. What happens then, is that traffic packs the snow down, so that even if the road is plowed after the storm is over, it is almost impossible to completely clear the road. Then, since it is impossible to completely clear that packed snow, it turns to ice in the following days, and makes some roads miserable to drive and even treacherous even days after the storm is over.

    My questions are these - Why is it that a state that gets more snow that we do, has better road conditions during storms? Why can't we learn from other states that do get more snow, and why can't road crews keep up with snow as it falls so that these icy, treacherous conditions don't develop?

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-01-09 09:35

    Donna emails--

    Ok. There's two types if "people who don't know how to drive in the snow." I put that in quotes because that's what I overhear not what I think. 1) People who drive too slow - worry warts! and 2) People who drive too fast - maniacs!

    What's the happy medium, if there is one, between being too cautious and too confident. (In general--I know there's other individual factors, such as experience, type of car, etc.)

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-01-09 09:36

    Travia emails:

    What measures are used to determine which streets are cleaned first?
    I live in Dover, PA and it seems the neighborhood streets are not cleaned as promptly as the streets in York, PA.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-01-09 09:37

    thomas in manheim twp. lancaster county emails:

    i just want to say, in this area all drivers should use snow/winter tires, have a good survival kit in their car, such as blankets, food, salt/sand, shovel, flashlights, and clip on chains.

    i always winterize my car in November.

    what i do not understand is why it seems that most drivers do not do this, or wait until it is too late to do.

  • Donna T img 2014-01-09 09:51

    oops. "Of" not "if"! Cold fingers.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-01-09 09:58

    Tom in Carlisle emails:

    Hello all,In driving in bad weather, I have a problem with people driving with their 4-way flashers on. They think they are being safer, but in reality, I cannot tell what their intentions are. Are they going to turn? Are they getting ready to change lanes? Frankly, I think it makes them less safe driving with the flashers on while at speed with everyone else.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-01-09 09:59

    Bobbie emails:

    We heard about the use of residue from beet juice,which would be an environmentally sound idea. Any talk about Pennsylvania using that?

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-01-09 10:00

    Jim emails:

    I grew up in western PA, Johnstown and we had to learn how to drive in the winter as soon as we got our licenses. My big problem is that people in this area put on their brakes as soon as the come to a hill and ride them the entire way down – going much to slowly and eventually polishing that stretch of roadway. Can you comment on this?

    And secondly you’re right. The winters used to be much worse. In Johnstown the snow came at Thanksgiving and left at Easter. I’ve been a ski instructor at Roundtop for 21 years and this year is only the second time we’ve opened the day after Thanksgiving.

  • clherrick img 2014-01-09 19:55

    I'm rarely by a radio mid morning but caught your program this morning. I found it educational and well presented. I have nothing but praise for PennDot and my local townships quick response to snow. I supervise a couple hundred people who come from 50 miles in each direction. I make it clear to them, safety first. If you are worried by road conditions, telework.

  • Shanon Gordon img 2014-03-18 03:44

    Be aware of your car’s limits and never try to push your car to do something it clearly cannot easily do. For example, always leave enough time when overtaking so you don’t get stuck trying to accelerate. Tips Given By: Shanon Gordon

  • Shanon Gordon img 2014-03-18 03:45

    Be aware of your car’s limits and never try to push your car to do something it clearly cannot easily do. For example, always leave enough time when overtaking so you don’t get stuck trying to accelerate. Be familiar with the amount of pressure you need to put on the brakes.