Keep Your Distance

We awoke this morning to a gentle dusting of beautiful snow.By the time I had showered and dressed, 45 minutes later, the visibility was almost zero and we had over 2 inches on the ground.

I turned off my overdrive, and started the slow descent down the hill where we live, and was stopped by traffic half way down. There was a 4-car pile up at the intersection at the bottom of the hill. After waiting 15 minutes, I proceeded to the intersection and turned right to drive past the high school. There, I saw 3 cars off the road, where students had obviously tried to stop, but had to swerve into the ditch. When I went to turn onto the state road, traffic was backed up for over a mile through our little village.

So, I braced myself for a long commute to work. My commute is usually 35-40 minutes in good weather and close to 1.5 hours in bad snow. But 5 miles down the road, as I crossed the town line, the snow vanished, the sun came out and there was barely a dusting on the trees. It was like I had traveled through some sort of weather warp.

The rest of my drive was a breeze, but it got me thinking about students and winter driving. How telling that the accidents I passed were all around the high school where there is a large population of inexperienced drivers. So here are my personal tips for winter driving…
  • Keep your distance. Even if you are an experienced driver and can stop on a dime, that doesn’t mean the drivers around you are as confident. For newbies and pros alike, the best thing you can do, is give yourself plenty of room.
  • Take your time. Leave early, and don’t rush on the roads.
  • Consider a lower gear. Even if you drive an automatic like me, you can downshift or switch off overdrive to give you more control.
  • Remember - bridges and overpasses freeze first.
  • Know your vehicle. Do you have on summer or winter tires? Do you have ABS brakes? Do you have traction control or other assistive tools? Do you have rear wheel drive? All of these things greatly impact your car’s ability to maintain its course and stop when warranted.
  • “Four-wheel drive does not mean four-wheel stop.” Don’t get too cocky just because you have all- or 4-wheel drive. It is not going to help you if you’re tailgating someone who loses control or if you hit a patch of black ice. Safe winter driving practices apply to you, too. (Quote is courtesy of The Contessa.)
  • Keep your car’s maintenance up to date. See Car Talk’s official winter checklist.
  • Washer fluid. Sounds like a crazy one – but you go through a ton of it keeping the slush and dirt (kicked up by the inevitable truck in front of you) off your windshield. And then there’s the times your washer jets are completely frozen – you can at least splash the fluid on your windshield occasionally.
  • Pack a winter kit. In case you go off the road or are stranded for a while, consider a small shovel, snow brush, jumper cables, a little road salt or sand (or kitty litter!), hat/gloves/boots, reflective flag or tape (to tie to your antenna – so your car can be visible if covered in snow), a blanket, and a charged cell phone – to name a few.
Here’s a great Canadian list of winter driving recommendations – and they should know, eh?

By the way – with the 15 minute delay at home, I still made it to work in under an hour. As they say in Vermont, "If you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes."

Photo courtesy of Irdim.

1 comment:

The Contessa said...

As usual you hit it on the head.

I forgot that comment but it sure sounds like Me!!! Truthfully I use it alot down here where everyone has all wheel/4 wheel drive and I have a little Mistsubishi.

Great tips and they are all worthwhile!