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Our View: Be considerate, cautious as winter settles in

Our View graphic

Christmas 2021 may have been brown — or even green — but 2022 has arrived with a bone-chilling reminder that, climate change notwithstanding, we still have winter in Minnesota.

That means it's time for us to offer our own set of reminders to drivers and homeowners. The snow is beautiful, but it brings with it a set of precautions and responsibilities.

For starters, look to your sidewalks. In Rochester, city ordinance requires residents to clear them within 24 hours after a snowfall stops. If you own a corner lot, that task includes removing snow from the wheelchair access to the street. And, if you happen to have a fire hydrant in front of your house, it's also your responsibility to keep it uncovered.

And don't push or blow snow into the street. Doing so is illegal, as it makes the banks along streets higher and wider once the plow comes by. Large piles of snow mean narrower streets and reduced visibility, so don't make this problem worse.

Speaking of narrow streets, the biggest favor any urban or small-town dweller can do for snow plow drivers is to get cars off the road before a storm hits. Plowing a city street is tough enough in the best of circumstances, but it's nearly impossible when plow drivers have to slalom around parked cars.

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Of course, not everyone has a driveway or garage in which to park, so Rochester has seasonal parking rules from Nov. 1 to April 1. If you can't get your car off the street, park on the even-numbered address side of the street from 2 a.m. to 3 p.m. on even-numbered days of the calendar, and on odd-numbered days park on the odd-numbered side.

Keep in mind that these rules are in place all the time, so don't assume that just because a plow has come by, you're OK to park wherever you like. Plows often make a second pass to get closer to the curb, and if you put your car on the street too soon or on the wrong side, your neighbors might have a lot more snow to remove from the end of their driveways and/or from in front of their mailboxes.

While proper parking and snow removal are important, proper winter driving is even more crucial.

For starters, check your tires. If they're iffy, don't try to get one more season out of them. This is Minnesota, and front-wheel drive, 4-wheel drive and all-wheel drive do little good on balding tires.

Even if your tires are brand new, winter in Minnesota is no time to be in a hurry. So leave early. Clear the frost from all of your vehicle's windows before you leave home. Make sure your headlights aren't covered with snow or ice.

Once you leave the driveway, slow down. Posted speed limits mean little during a Minnesota winter, as roads that seem perfectly clear can have icy bridges and intersections. And, when the mercury really plummets, black ice can be an invisible killer.

So drive defensively. Allow for increased stopping distances as you approach intersections, and never assume that the driver approaching from your right or left will be able to stop.

If there are novice drivers in your family, get them into a snowy parking lot or lightly-traveled road and let them feel the anti-lock brakes working. Teach them how to steer into a skid, rather than slamming on the brakes.

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Finally, give snow plows a very, very wide berth. The Minnesota Department of Transportation recommends staying at least 10 car lengths behind a plow, but you might need to stay back even farther to stay out of the snow cloud a plow can create.

Be patient when plows are out. While it's not illegal to pass a plow, it can be very dangerous to do so, as plows make frequent turns and their blades often extend onto and beyond the centerline.

Keep in mind that while plows are huge, they aren't trains. A big drift in the road can move a plow several feet in the blink of an eye – and no matter how big your vehicle might be, it's going to come out on the losing end of a collision with a plow.

The bottom line is that when you find yourself behind a plow, the best thing you can do is make sure your headlights are on, the cruise control is off, and that you're far enough back and driving slowly enough to react when the plow slows down or turns.

And, if you do end up behind a snowplow, try to enjoy the drive. After all, being behind a plow, on a cleared-and-sanded road, is a lot safer than being in front of it.

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