How to avoid the tow in the snow

While summer months at the deadliest on Minnesota roads, wintertime leads to the most crashes and poses safety risks and hazards.

Submitted photo Five Star Towing owner Eric Platz pulls a semi out of a snow-covered ditch.

It hasn’t snowed much at all this winter so far, but like it or not, its wintertime and sooner or later a major snowstorm will happen.

In the past five years, snowy or icy road conditions were reported in 79,165 crashes that resulted in 181 traffic deaths and 19,218 injuries, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

Realize that at times, Old Man Winter has the upper hand.

“During a big snowstorm, no towing company can keep up. There’s just way too much going on,” said Five Star Towing owner Eric Platz of rural Lafayette.

“I don’t know if people think we can perform miracles or what. Our tow trucks have to drive down the same roads everybody else does,” said Platz.

Photo by Fritz Busch Eric Platz stands next to his new tow truck.

“People may be just 20 miles from us, but they may be waiting for us for three hours. People should be dressed warm and have plenty of fuel,” he added.

“Fire departments and EMS (emergency medical services) have to go out and rescue people. It’s a group effort. A lot of it can be avoided by staying home or being prepared. We’ll do the best we can,” Platz said.

Despite lack of snow early this winter, Platz said he was busy with daily tows.

“Three hours is a shorter tow for us. Going to the Twin Cities is four or five hours by the time we’re done,” he added.

One of his early winter truck tow calls happened right next to his driveway. Another involved a semi fire less about 20 minutes away.

“We’re happy enjoying the holidays without a white Christmas this year,” said Platz. “We worked non-stop around last Christmas. I worked and lived in the truck. In snowstorms around last Christmas, I don’t remember being south of New Ulm or north of the McLeod County line. It was non-stop. My dad and a couple people helped me.”

With recent additions, his tow truck fleet includes three heavy duty and two light duty diesel trucks, plus a couple sets of wheel and axle devices he uses to pull heavy vehicles out of more challenging places including farm fields.

Alan Rader of Rader’s Towing of New Ulm said vehicle owners need to be vigilant about maintenance, especially tires, during the winter.

“We’ve seen an awful lot of bald tires on cars that came in. Tire baldness may be on the inside of the tire. Maintenance, maintenance. Turn the wheels all the way to each side and look at your tires,” said Alan Rader.

“It seems we’ve had a lot of crashes with people hitting light poles,” he added.

“Even though it’s our business, I don’t miss the snow and ice yet. This winter can stay like this,” Rader said.

Neal Bode of K & R Towing of New Ulm said he’s seen a lot of vehicle-deer crashes this fall and winter.

“It’s probably because deer are moving more because there is no snow,” Bode said.

“It also seems people don’t check their tires and get flat tires. We get there and see bald tires or tires worn down to the cords,” he added.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety urges motorists to be cautious about traveling in extreme winter weather. Winter survival tips include planning before you travel, vehicle preparation, keeping your gas tank at least half full, listening to forecasts, road reports and storm warnings, dressing appropriately, packing extra scarves and mittens.

Get a winter survival kit. Tie a colored banner to an antenna or hang it out a window. At night, remove your dome light cover and turn it on to help road crews or rescue units see you.

Stay in your vehicle. It’s a good shelter. Calm down and think. The storm will end and you will be found.

Increase following distance. If a vehicle rear end begins to slide, turn into the direction of the skid. Expect a second skid as the vehicle straightens out and counter it. Don’t use cruise control on snow, ice or wet roads.

A winter survival kit should include small candles and matches, a small, sharp knife and plastic spons, red bandanna or cloth, pencil and paper, a large plastic garbage bag, safety pins, whistle, snacks, cell phone adapter to plug into lighter and a plastic flashlight with spare batteries.

Suggested food items are raisins in small packets, semi-sweet chocolate, small candy bars, chewing gum, wrapped hard candies, food bars.

Don’t forget booster cables, basic tools, sand, cat litter or grit in a plastic milk carton, tow cables or a chain, sleeping bag or blankets, road flares, reflectors and a snowmobile suit and heavy boots.

If you become stranded in Minnesota, call 911 for help. In other states, call 911 or 0.


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