Holiday and winter travelers warned to be prepared before hitting the road

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Shawnee Shelton cleans snow off her car outside of Greenfield Village Apartments before heading to work on a January morning. (File photo)

HANCOCK COUNTY — Over the river and through the woods for holiday travel can be dangerous if drivers are not prepared for traffic delays and foul weather.

The holiday travel season is here and, despite warmer and dryer conditions as of late, the harsh winter weather associated with this time of the year is always possible. Public safety officials say being prepared is the best thing drivers can do to assure a safe holiday trip, particularly with large numbers of drivers expected to be on the roads next week and into December.

Public safety officials note it’s good to remind Hoosier drivers that Indiana roads can be deadly. The state has seen the second-largest rise in car crash fatalities over a nine-year period, a new study finds. The study analyzed the rate of car crash fatalities from 2012 to 2021 to find the overall percentage increase in deaths. The research showed Indiana is second on the list, with an increase of 38.38% of car crash fatalities.

The study showed that people died in car crashes at a rate of 14.53 per 100,000 licensed drives in 2012, the 20th lowest rate in the United States that year. The state’s highest rate of car crash deaths came in 2017, where there were 20.12 per 100,000 licensed drivers. However, in 2021, the rate of car crash fatalities was 20.10 per 100,000 licensed drivers, the second-highest rate over the 10-year period.

Captain Robert Harris of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department implores drivers to slow down, particularly during holiday and winter travel.

Captain Robert Harris of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department (HCSD) looked through county crash numbers over the last 10 years where at least one person was killed. The figures show, essentially, the county had 95 crash deaths during that time, with nine so far in 2023. This includes all fatal crashes in the county, including those other agencies cover.

“Looking at the numbers and the chart, pre-COVID when we had stepped up our traffic enforcement, fatal crashes declined three years in a row from 2019-2021,” Harris said. “As COVID ended and more drivers began commuting again, numbers spiked to 11 deaths in 2022. Since we have once again focused on traffic enforcement, we are down so far this year.”

Harris noted the safer numbers are holding steady despite a rapidly growing resident and commuter population on the roadways in Hancock County.

“As the businesses and neighborhoods continue to grow, we will see even more residents and commuters, but hope to see the number of crashes decline,” he said.

While crashes and stranded situations happen often without notice, officials say there are things drivers can do to avoid becoming a statistic on the roads, particularly during holiday and winter travel.

“We urge drivers to always slow down, leave plenty of time for travel, and always pay attention to the road,” Harris said.

Officials with the HCSD also encourage drivers to celebrate responsibly and never drive impaired.

“As winter approaches, we remind all drivers to complete routine maintenance of their vehicles, including checking tires and brakes, always maintain at least a half tank of fuel, and place a winter kit inside the vehicle with blankets, flashlights, ice scrapers, hat and gloves, road flares, and perhaps a portable battery pack for charging phones,” he said.

Even if drivers are making a quick trip just down the road, Harris noted people should be sure to dress for the weather in case of a crash or a breakdown.

“It’s never fun to see stranded motorists wearing only shorts or pajamas when the temperature outside is below freezing,” he said.

 Chuck McMichael, deputy chief of the Greenfield Police Department, offers driver safety tips for holiday and winter drivers.

Like Harris, Deputy Chief of the Greenfield Police Department Chuck McMichael said this time of year people should be checking their emergency car kits, making sure they have ice scrapers, water, snacks, phone chargers and blankets in the car in case they get stuck.

“Once the snow starts flying is a little late,” McMichael said. “Once you are stuck in traffic or slide off of the road and run out of gas are terrible times to realize you aren’t prepared.”

In the winter months, people should ensure they keep their gas tank at least at a half tank and if possible avoid driving on the interstate when it snows.

“If there is an accident ahead of you and the road is closed, you have nowhere to go,” McMichael said.

People should also check their tire pressure, McMichael said, noting that when it turns colder, pressure in tires drops.

“This could cause the vehicle to pull in one direction or the other,” he said. “If tire pressure is low, hitting a pot hole or running over something could cause the tire to come off of the rim and leave you stranded.”

To avoid that, McMichael noted don’t forget to check the spare tire pressure and make sure your car has a good, working pair of wiper blades.

The GPD is promoting on their social media site a free wiper blade giveaway program going on through other local businesses.

Best-One of Indy and Riley Park Tire are giving away a free pair of Valvoline wiper blades, and they will install them for customers who bring in a new, unopened jar of peanut butter or jelly to help benefit the local food panties this winter.

McMichael noted a driver should never operate a car with only a small patch of the windshield cleared of snow, ice and frost.

“This is extremely dangerous, not only for you but for other drivers and pedestrians,” he said. “You should always have a 360 degree field of view. It’s also illegal to drive with any obstruction of your windshield.”