Crash video gives lesson on staying safe on winter roads

Dash cam footage from a Kent County Sheriff's Department deputy's cruiser. (Courtesy Kent County Sheriff)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — You are driving along when ahead of you a potentially deadly situation unfolds — what do you do?

A Kent County sheriff’s deputy faced that situation this week — and it was caught on video.

On Wednesday, Deputy Jason Postma was driving east on 14 Mile Road NE at Harvard Avenue in northern Kent County’s Oakfield Township when he saw a minivan unable to stop going into the path of an 80,000-pound semi-truck.

For many drivers, instinct is to step on the brakes when seeing trouble ahead. But when speed and slippery roads are a factor, that can be the wrong choice.

“Even though the crash was kind of spectacular, fortunately the injuries were all fairly minor,” said Captain David Kok of the Kent County Sheriff’s Department.

Kok says Postma did the right thing.

“(Postma) realized that vehicle was traveling too fast and wasn’t going to be able to stop,” Kok said. “Planning ahead, he had already gotten off the gas and was kind of getting ready for what might happen.”

His next move could have spelled disaster.

“He realized that he wasn’t going to be able to stop in time, the semi wasn’t going to be able to stop in time, so he made the decision to head for the ditch to head for the field and get out of the way,” Kok said.

When roads with speed limits of 55 mph are made even more hazardous with snow and ice, the urge to hit the brakes can be a dangerous instinct.

“The problem is that if your wheels stop rolling, you can’t turn,” Kok said. “What’s often better, is to keep the vehicle in motion, so that it can turn, and find an alternate place to be.”

Kok said clipping a mailbox is better that a face-to-face meeting with a speeding semi.

“Sometimes that property damage is a lot better than taking a crash head-on,” Kok said.

Kok said limiting distractions and keeping your wits about you are even more important this time of year.

“Always be prepared, always be thinking ahead and don’t just assume you’re going to be able to pass right through that intersection,” Kok said.