Defensive Driving in Colorado
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Defensive driving requires a pessimistic mindset. Expect the worst while behind the wheel, focusing on each situation's danger potential. This includes every road scenario, ranging from rural intersections to stop-and-go traffic through Denver, to getting tailgated in Colorado Springs to driving over Wolf Creek Pass in ruthless winter conditions.
Driving in Snow
Winter, especially in Colorado's high country, does not play by the calendar. Snow can pack roads from early September to late May. Compounding this "threat" is that Colorado, for environmental reasons, does not salt its roads, preferring sand and gravel.
So here's what to do when you find yourself in snow, or about to face it:
- Allow yourself more time and slow down. Speeding on snow-packed roads turns your vehicle into a moving threat to yourself and others.
- Keep your windows and windshield clear of ice and snow. When cleaning your windshield, don't just wipe away one thin stripe, so it feels like you're looking out a turret. Clean the entire windshield. And make sure your car's defroster works properly.
- Pump rather than jam the brakes.
- Don't feel unstoppable if driving a four-wheel drive vehicle. More often than not, four-wheel drive owners embrace a false sense of bravado when driving in snow, and ultimately end up on the side of the road in a three-foot snowbank, looking dumbfounded. As proof of this, next time you're driving in the snow on Interstate 25, count how many four-wheel drive vehicles are off the road.
Driving through Colorado's mountains can feel like an obstacle course. Not only must you pay attention to other vehicles, but you must also keep an alert eye for rocks, elk, deer, mountain goats and bicyclists. To safely negotiate the high country roads consider the following:
- Pay heavy attention to road signs indicating curves.
- Shift into lower gear when ascending or descending steep roads.
- Do not coast down a steep descent by shifting into neutral.
- Share the road with bicyclists, and don't try to pass them when approaching a blind curve.
The entire eastern half of Colorado is farm and cattle country. When driving through this half of the state, be especially aware of slow moving farm vehicles, wandering livestock and blind or poorly marked intersections.
Maintain a slower speed, even when traffic is thin. Many of the two-lane roads are without shoulders, leaving little margin for error.
Maintaining a Safe Cushion
Even if you're driving defensively, you still must have time to react to the drivers around you. Maintaining a two-second cushion with the vehicle ahead of you, under normal driving conditions, will serve as a good position. This way, if the vehicle in front stops suddenly, you'll have space and time to react properly.
You should increase your "safety cushion" to three or four seconds when driving in rain or snow, and when following motorcycles.
When driving on multi-lane highways, you should also maintain a cushion with the vehicles on your sides. If you have another vehicle riding alongside of you, either speed up or slow down in order to create space and stay out of the other's blind spots.
To avoid being blinded by an approaching vehicle's headlights, focus your eyes on the on the right side of the road. Also, maintain a speed that will allow you to stop within the distance of your headlights.
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