Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Nov. 19, 2001

Bad driving conditions concern emergency personnel

By Lynda Jensen

Motorists traversing tricky roadways this winter should know that driving the posted speed limit under poor road conditions may earn them an $85 ticket, according to the Wright County Sheriff's Department.

The ticket is called the "duty to drive with care," and is a moving violation. It means the driver was driving within the legal speed limit - but not when it was "reasonable and prudent" to do so, according to the sheriff's office.

If there was a car accident or damage to property under these conditions, it turns into a mandatory court appearance. The fine would be set by the judge, according to the Wright County court services office.

The purpose of the ticket is for the safety of both drivers, in avoiding accidents, and to protect emergency crews, that may find themselves responding to accidents.

An example of this kind of situation is driving during an ice storm, in blowing and drifting snow, or under heavy fog, such as what was reported last week in the area.

Fog is least favorite

Of all the driving conditions, fog appears to be the least favorite of some local emergency personnel; although Howard Lake Fire Chief Joe Drusch commented that ice is the worst to him.

"Fog is the worst," commented Mark Karels of Mark's Service in Waverly. "You can't even see where where you're going."

Howard Lake Ambulance Director Tom Diers agreed. Drivers seem to be more willing to go faster if they can feel traction, as opposed to an ice storm, which would force drivers to slow down otherwise, he said.

The time of day also plays a part along Highway 12, Tom Sullivan of Tom's Towing in Howard Lake said.

Drivers going to and from work seem to be in a hurry, he said.

It is not legal to pass any emergency vehicle with its red lights rotating or flashing, including fire trucks, ambulances, and other emergency vehicles unless the driver is instructed to do otherwise.

In harm's way

Another ticket that can be given to drivers is failure to yield to an emergency vehicle.

The vast majority of Minnesota drivers yield to emergency vehicles, Diers commented. "They're pretty good," he said.

However, a few will zip by without a second thought, endangering the lives of everyone involved who is responding to an accident - ambulance, police, and fire crews alike.

"Once in a while, you'll get an idiot who is glued to the flashing red lights," Drusch said.

At least law enforcement officials can choose the location to pull a driver over, but the scene of an accident is probably the most dangerous place to be, since the road conditions may have contributed to the accident in the first place, the sheriff's office said.

Every year, someone is killed from emergency crews in Minnesota when passing cars refuse to yield the right of way.

Patrol cars from the sheriff's office have been struck in the past while responding to accidents, although not recently.

"We've had cars shooting by us - one that was within a couple feet of a guy," Karels said.

The Howard Lake Fire Department has invested and upgraded in its light bars and other equipment for this very reason, Drusch said.

"They go whipping by. Personally, I've almost gotten hit twice," Diers commented.

It is also a problem when drivers get distracted by the accident, trying to see what is going, on, Diers said. "It makes a bad situation worse," he said.

Sullivan noticed that it makes a big difference whether he uses his yellow or flashing red lights, he said. Red lights are more effective.

Semi trucks are also something to watch, Sullivan said.

When the ambulance has its flashing lights on, it is requesting the right of way, Diers said.

What this means is that drivers - going both directions - are required to slow down, pull to the right and then stop, he said. The "stop" part can be hard for some, he added.

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