Driving Adventures in Winter
Folks, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere — especially if you live in the Upper Midwest, as I do — you know that driving conditions right now tend to range from “iffy” to “downright bad.”
It’s because of this that I decided to share a few tips I’ve learned about winter driving…in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, it’ll help you to know them as well.
First, before you go out on the road, make sure your car is in the best repair possible. If you’ve been putting off buying tires, now is the time to get them…if you’ve been putting off replacing your windshield wipers, definitely replace them now (or possibly suffer the consequences — more about this anon).
Second, make sure that whenever you’re going out in the cold weather that you have a full gas tank, especially if you have a smaller car (as I do). Don’t assume that half a tank, or worse yet, a quarter of a tank, will do, because you’re only going across town. You have to plan for the worst-case scenario here, which means you need a full tank (or at minimum, three-quarters of a tank).
Third, don’t assume that the roads will be plowed, sanded, or salted. (Worst-case scenario, got it?) That way, you’ll be less stressed out if they aren’t.
Fourth, if your car does skid, you need to turn into the skid and lay off the brake pedal if at all possible — brake lightly and gently, else. That way, you may not go into the ditch, and can get off the road in one piece. (If you go into what would’ve been oncoming traffic except for the snowstorm, so what? Providing no one is there, no harm, no foul. So keep your cool, get the car turned back around, and go on your way again, thanking your lucky stars that you didn’t hit anyone today, and that no one hit you, either.)
Fifth, if you do land in the ditch — I have, though not in many years — don’t panic. That is what your cell phone and/or AAA or whatever roadside assistance you have is for. If you don’t have that, call a tow truck. (And if you are between paychecks and just don’t have any money at all, it’s time to call a friend who can tow you out.)
I say all this after surviving some of the worst driving conditions I have ever faced last night. There was black ice, then snow on top of that, then rutted ice on top of that…at least six inches of snow on the ground, and I saw no sand or salt trucks out. And the only plow I saw showed up just as I got into my driveway…which means that plow didn’t exactly help me much.
As I’m an intelligent person, I definitely did not enjoy these horrible driving conditions whatsoever. But what I did to survive them was to do one thing: find a line, and stay on it.
“But Barb,” you protest. “What in the world does that mean, anyway?”
It means that if the roads are so bad you can’t possibly see the lane lines, and no plows have been by, and there are ruts everywhere, pick the best line you can in order to stay out of the ditch. Adjust your speed accordingly; I went only fifteen to twenty miles per hour on city streets that were rated thirty, thirty-five, or forty…not because I am a nervous Nellie (though I can be, sometimes), but because I was more concerned with preserving my own skin and getting home in one piece than in how long it was going to take me to get there.
When you get to a stop sign or a stoplight, know that you may not be able to stop in such horrible conditions, too. Plan to skid around other cars, if you must. Try to avoid any obstacles…but yes, try to brake gently and lightly first, before you take evasive action.
That’s one of the reasons you go more slowly, mind, so you have a hope in Hell of actually stopping in such dreadful conditions. But you have to realize you still may not be able to do so, and figure out what you’re going to do in the worst-case…it’s the only way to be safe, truly.
Two more things before I go:
If you are in a four-wheel drive vehicle, truck, or SUV, don’t assume that you’re going to have any better traction than I do in my little car. Chances are in conditions like that, you don’t. Try to take your additional car’s mass into account, and be as safe as you can; don’t believe that your bigger car or truck will save you if you don’t use your head as well.
And finally…remember what I said about windshield wipers, before? Well, last night as I got into my own driveway, my driver’s side wiper actually fell off. Both wipers had more or less stopped functioning during the snowstorm as the snow and sleet mix continued to come down, and were badly iced over. The roads were so bad, I didn’t trust going to an auto parts store and getting back out again, so I took a calculated risk and made it all the way home instead.
Could I do it over again, I’d have made sure I had enough money in my pocket to buy two new wipers. (By the way, I did that today. I got the teflon-coated ones, too…they won’t stick to the windows, and it’s going to be far less likely that they’re going to stick to the windshield and thus be inoperable.) And I’d have bought them before that snowstorm hit, considering how bad it was.
I was very, very fortunate last night to make it home in one piece, not get into an accident, and avoid the three-four accidents waiting to happen that I clearly saw in the process.
What I want you to do is learn from my almost-mistake, all right? Make sure you have good wipers on the car if at all possible. And if you are between paychecks, treat your wipers gently and hope like fire they’ll make it until you do get paid…because that’s the only way you’re going to be safe. (And safety is the name of the game, in winter. Trust me.)