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Drive carefully in snowy, icy conditions

After a couple weeks of foggy weather, we've completed our first week of icy and snowy driving conditions, and for the most part I'd give Rogue Valley drivers a B-plus. I also have some notes.

Most people did the sensible thing and slowed down. Of course, there were those who didn't, and those were generally the folks who needed help getting out of a ditch somewhere. That big 4x4 truck or SUV may be good with low-speed traction, but on ice or packed snow, it's not going to stop any better than my two-wheel-drive patrol car. So don't be fooled into thinking you're impervious out there.

Remember, too, that even though the sun may be out and the road dry, there are always shaded places on curves to keep in mind, like the corners at Foothill Boulevard near Dry Creek Road, and South Stage Road near the Rogue Valley Academy.

Then there's the headlight issue. Headlights need to be on whenever visibility is limited. Your vehicle must be clearly visible on a level surface from at least 1,000 feet away. Turning your parking lights on does not meet the standard. It is illegal to drive with only your parking lights.

Also, don't rely on your automatic system to make sure the lights are on. It's still your responsibility. The automatic systems may misread the amount of light that fog allows through and not come on, and yet the fog can be too thick to drive in without the headlights.

We had our first couple of cases of people having their cars stolen while letting them idle unattended. If you're going to warm up your car while staying in the house, then lock the car and use a spare key to get back in.

Finally, make sure that you defrost your windows. We are citing drivers for driving with those tiny clear spots they peer through while most of the windshield remains covered with ice. One driver this week got off the graveyard shift at a local business and didn't defrost her windows while trying to drive through the parking lot. She hit a co-worker who was walking in to start the morning shift, knocking him down and running over one of his legs. It could have been much worse.

Dace Cochran, a patrol sergeant with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, writes a weekly Q&A column on police issues for the Mail Tribune. Have a question for him? Write to Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501, or e-mail cochradc@jacksoncounty.org.