Tuesday, February 3, 2009

White Knuckle Driving Tips

We had another pleasant winter surprise last night -- 3 more inches of snow.

On my way to school, I saw a school bus driver have to make the choice between sideswiping a truck sitting at a stop sign and plowing through a snow bank. On our way home, I followed a fish-tailing sedan and a van spinning his wheels to get moving at a stoplight.

So I thought it was time for some tips to keep you and the car-seat brigade nice and safe when the weather calls for slippery roads.

Start with a Clear View -- If you are fortunate enough to have a garage with plenty of room for all your vehicles, I applaud you. Our garage is the staging area for all our home improvement projects. Sadly, that means I'm out there with the snowbrush and scraper in winter weather. It can be so tempting just to do the bare minimum and let the defroster do the rest as we drive, but you never know what is going to be coming at you, from what direction, on a slippery-slidey driving day. Better start out right and clear all the windows and mirrors before you set out. (And make sure your windshield washer fluid is full, so if it gets grimy as you drive, you can clear the view.)

Get Rid of the Lid -- If you leave snow, even light, powdery stuff like we had this morning, on your roof and front hood, it will fly up and stick to your front and rear windows as you drive. (So all that time you spent clearing the windows? Down the tubes.) Even if the snow isn't powdery, but stiff, it can be dangerous to other drivers. A couple of years ago, my brother was driving on the beltway outside of Washington, DC, and a large sheet of icy snow lifted off the top of an SUV, flew across two lanes of traffic and shattered his windshield. Talk about a white-knuckle moment! Fortunately, no one was hurt, but they could have been, and it was all because someone didn't take the time to clear the snow off his or her roof. Use a push-broom if you can't reach it. But do it -- it's important.

Let Your headLight Shine -- When you're clearing your car off, don't forget to take the snow off your headlights and rear lights and drive with them on... even in the daytime. The more visible you are to other drivers, the better. When you stop at the gas station for your next fill-up, try washing them off with the windshield washer squeegee. Getting your lights clean of grime and streusel-topping road snow will make them shine much brighter.

Better Late than Never -- I cannot stand to be late. It's my personal hang-up. But when it's snowy outside, I know I can't afford to rush. Taking it slow gives my tires enough time to grip the road surface, even when it's slippery. Going too fast can make my car start to fish-tail, even on straight roads. Hurrying a turn in the snow can make your car skid. It's best to just ease into it, even if that means you arrive at your destination a little later than you want to.

Steer into a Skid -- We all heard this one at Driver's ed, but it's true. If your car starts to skid, the best thing to do is to take your foot off the gas and the brake and gently turn the wheel in the direction you are skidding. Steering into a skid will help line up your front and back wheels and get you moving straight again. Whatever you do, DON'T slam on the brakes. That can make you lose control entirely.

Slow Stops and Starts -- If your car is stopped, just use a little touch on the gas to get it moving. Too much gas from a stopped position can make your wheels spin. When we were out the other day, we were behind a city bus at a stoplight. When the light turned green, the driver spun the bus' wheels and actually moved sideways instead of forward. I think the driver of the car next to the bus needed to change her pants afterward. Fortunately, the bus got under control -- by easing off the gas. On the other hand, I was foolish enough one day last week to approach a stop sign just like I do when the roads are dry. A half a second after putting on my brakes, I realized my car wasn't even slowing down -- there was ice! I don't have ABS, so I pumped my brakes to stop and only overshot the stop sign by a few feet. I warmed up the paddles of my handy-dandy glove compartment defibrillator (by Totes), started my heart again, paused to thank The Lord a few times, and continued home more cautiously. Note to self: brake slowly and give yourself twice the stopping distance, just in case.

Keep the road Roomy -- Think about how much you are driving, whether because of your work commute or bringing the kids to school, ballet lessons, shopping, going to your workout or church. Now think about how nervous you may be and/or how many close calls you may have had in slippery weather. Multiply that by the number of drivers you see on the road as you're on your way to your favorite activity. My, that's a lot of "oh, shoot!" moments! So, don't forget to be patient and give other drivers a LOT of room on the road. When you are stopped at a light, make sure there is twice the amount of space between you and the next driver. (You never know when someone will plow into the whole line of you!) And no matter what, never push or tailgate a truck or a bus. Pass them legally if you're in a hurry, but do not fool yourself into thinking you will get where you are going faster by hanging out on their back bumper. It's just dangerous.

Focus (Daniel-san): All the kids are buckled. The windows are clear. The car is warmed up and you're ready to go. Now make sure you have the driving -- only the driving -- on your mind. If you are upset, do not drive. If the kids are being crazy, take the time to calm them and explain that "Mommy needs to concentrate." It's worth it to shut out distractions and keep your whole family safe.

I am always floored when I go into my children's school and see teachers that I know had to drive an hour in the same conditions I struggle to get my crew through for ten minutes. So, today, props go out to KC and Mr. DelVillano for already being at school and ready for anything! You both amaze me!

As for all the other Moms/Dads/taxi-drivers/bus drivers/carpoolers/Grandparents/commuters having to slog through the white stuff this time of year, I wish you Safe Travels. Guard your precious cargo. I will, too.

Spring will be here before we know it, right?

- Midwest Mom


  1. And I can't WAIT for spring--I'm sick of slowing down to a crawl on icy corners.

  2. I am so sick of winter and snow! We didn't get any last night, but still it's so cold and awful!

  3. We luckily haven't had snow here in a while...I would like to keep it that way :-)

  4. The weather has been terrible here in Ohio, too. I have always had a fear of driving in the snow and ice. You did an excellent job on writing this post, and you gave such wonderful advice. Great post!

    Spring can't get here soon enough! These old bones of mine need some warm sunshine.(smile)....Mattie

  5. Great tips! I hate to be late too, but being careful is so much more important. We got snow today and my plan was to stay home, but that plan was solidified when Austin starting throwing up this morning. Ugh.

  6. Green Girl,
    I don't even want to *start* thinking about where I'll be in 9 years -- teaching Primo how to drive... Yikes!

    Sounds like you need to enjoy a cup of cocoa with a peppermint stick. Yummy. It's just the thing to warm you up when the weather gets nasty.

    Midwest Mommy,
    Feel free to get in on the cocoa action, too. Here are some virtual marshmallows. (Buck up, warmer weather is on the way!)

    I just visited your blog, and you have a wonderful way with words. I hope you and "Old Arthur" are feeling better today!

    Oh, no! Well, at least he was healthy enough for a little puddle jumping earlier in the week. It's the one thing all moms forget about wishing for an early Spring -- their kids transforming into mud puppies overnight! ;)

    Thanks for coming by, everyone!

    - Julia

  7. Ugh I'm so over this winter already. I can't wait to start my vegtable garden this year!

  8. PS- Even though I'm sick of winter these are still great tips :-)

  9. Ugh. I hate driving in the snow/ice. That's one of the reasons I love NC. We do VERY little of that.

  10. Oh driving in winter, I do not miss that. I have been away from MN for 7 years now, when we move back I am going to have to completely learn how to drive in snow and ice all over again.

  11. Hey there -- I'm really enjoying your blog this Sunday morning! Love this list... I wish I could buy some billboard space here in Denver and publish this whole post. People here freak out when there's an inch of snow, and either drive dangerously slow on the highway, or way too fast. (We are considered high desert, and don't get nearly the snow that they do in the mountains.)

    Loved the part about the driver next to the bus (having to change her drawers!)...

    Keep up the great & entertaining work... see you on Twittermoms.



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