Winter driving safety: Police give tips for drivers stuck in snowy conditions

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- We've seen a number of big accidents on West Michigan roads recently: a 40-car pileup in Muskegon on Friday, and another in Paw Paw on Sunday that shut down the highway for hours.

Pileup situations can be especially tricky for drivers. Safety officials say despite your instincts, the safest place you can be is in your car.

"Accidents in the winter time can really take a lot of different forms," said Sgt. Joel Roon from the Kent County Sheriff's Office. "Obviously, one of the most scary would be a pileup situation on a highway or something like that, which we've seen recently."

In situations like pileups, Sgt. Roon discourages drivers from getting out of their vehicles.

"In a situation like that, with low visibility and multiple cars involved, we want motorists to understand that the safest place for them to be is inside their car," said Roon, WHO says you could be hit by another vehicle.

If you do want to help other drivers, just call 911. "We don't ever want to discourage anyone from safely rendering aid to anyone who needs it, but at the same time there's not a lot you can do from outside your vehicle in a pileup situation," said Roon. "Stay in your car if you can."

He says many winter accidents are low speed collisions which leaves the cars drivable. If you can, try to drive your vehicle out of the way of traffic.

"One of the misconceptions we see often is that people think they need to preserve the accident scene and let the officers see where the cars came to a rest," said Roon. "In some cases that's helpful, but most of the time move to a safe location if you can and the officer will be able to recreate that accident scene based on your statements alone."

After watching video of the pileup, Sgt. Roon says he was most shocked by the high speeds of drivers coming into the frame. He urges all drives to take it slow on slippery roads.

"Continually ask yourself if something were to present itself just beyond what you can see, can you get your vehicle to a complete stop safely?" said Roon. "If the answer to that question is no, you're going too fast."

Roon says it's important to keep a winter emergency kit in your car complete with blankets, food and water just in case you're going to be trapped in your car for a few hours.

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