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How to avoid being ‘that driver’ on snowy roads in Washington passes

A Smart Car gets stuck trying to cross Snoqualmie Pass in a snow storm. (Washington State Patrol, Twitter)

Snoqualmie Pass was shut down several times late last week, after so many cars spun-out that it just wasn’t safe to keep the freeway open.

And when I saw a tiny Smart Car on social media trying to make it up the pass, I decided it was time to call class into session. As Washington State Trooper Rick Johnson told me, Smart Cars are not snow cars.

“We do not condone or suggest that you try,” he clarified.

The driver was cited for failing to follow the posted restrictions. At that time, traction tires were required. And as Trooper Johnson said, posted restrictions are not requests.

“If you don’t abide by them, you get stuck,” he said. “We get there as quickly as we can and try to get you out, but you’re making it so the plows can’t continue to do their job and keep the roadway passable.”

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The minimum fine for a passenger car failing to follow the restrictions is $500. For commercial rigs, it can be double that.

So, let’s break it down.

Traction tires required means just that: You must have tires that are rated for mud and snow or have studded tires, or other traction tires. You should see the “M” and “S” on your tires, if you don’t know. Most all season tires have this rating. Big rigs need to chain up in this scenario. If chains are required on all vehicles but all-wheel drive, it’s simple: You need to chain up, even if you have studded tires.

Trooper Johnson said you need to use common sense.

“Even if you have an all-wheel drive car but you’re not comfortable driving in the snow and ice, then don’t,” he said.

He also reminds people with all-wheel drive to avoid getting cocky in snowy conditions.

“They think they’re invincible,” he said. “You can get going, but ice doesn’t care if you have 42-wheel drive.”

To recap, check the conditions before you go. Make sure your tires can handle the conditions. Have your chains and know how to use them. Don’t be cocky. This will be on the exam, and a failing grade could cost you $500.

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