Dude, Just Slow Down!

Wow.  I went out for my usual morning Starbucks run, and what a freakin’ mess it is out there.  Fortunately, most people driving on Mt. Hope this morning appeared to have the basics of winter driving down.  Rule #!: slow the hell down, jerk-ass.  But apparently, people on I-390 still need an education:

Democrat & Chronicle: Local News

One of the first snowfalls in December was the cause of several morning accidents. There were at least 12 accidents by 7:15 a.m. but nobody had been brought to Strong Memorial Hospital for treatment of motor vehicle injuries. Four accidents occurred on I-390, including one at Exit 16 heading into Brighton, two at Jefferson Road in Henrietta, and one at Brighton-Henrietta Town Line Road.

Well, the D&C needs to sell papers, and so they’re diplomatic.  But the winter weather was most certainly not “the cause” of the accidents.  It’s the drivers, and the drivers really aught to be ashamed.  As long as I live, I don’t know if I’ll ever fully understand this. You gotta figure more than half the people in these accidents have lived in Rochester or the surrounding areas all their lives; statistics alone bare this out.  How can so many people be so completely inept at winter driving?  I remember living in Sodus, the first heavy snow fall of the season would always bring with it a slew of SUV’s stuck on the side of 104 in Webster.

I suppose that, living the hick life that I did as a child in places like Honeoye, Bloomfield and particularly Sodus, I learned to deal with nasty weather as a matter of survival: if you go off the road on Rt. 350, it may be a while before anyone notices and longer before anyone stops.  Also, as a person who’s done a fair amount of small-boat (under 24′) piloting on Lake Ontario, perhaps its just that I’m used to controlling something that does not really stop when you tell it to.

So here, then, are Tommy’s Winter Driving Tips.  It’s a short list, and to my mind, the only ones that really matter when you’re behind the wheel (meaning I’ve left out the whole “get snow tires” and “change your windshield wipers” suggestions):

  1. Slow the hell down, jerkass.  There is a delicate balance to be struck between sliding and driving, and this cannot be achieved above a certain speed.  Believe it or not, if you just relax and pay attention, the road conditions will tell you how fast you should go and you don’t need to really think about it.  Use the force, Luke!
  2. The question is not “Am I sliding?”  The question is “Am I sliding in the right direction?”  You can’t avoid sliding forever.  You should probably try, but you won’t be able to be 100% successful.  Once you’ve begun sliding, you’ve already lost the ability to stop the car, so don’t make the situation worse by hitting the brakes.  If you do, you go from four wheels to four skis, all aimed in a random direction you probably didn’t want to go.  Winter driving is all about inertia, baby; navigating a controlled slide is about using that intertia; it’s a zen-type-thang.  If you have front wheel drive, turn the wheel in the direction of the slide and let the front wheels catch up to the rear wheels.  Or, if you were trying to turn at the time, split the difference between the direction the car is aimed and the direction you want to go in.

I hope that helps somebody out there understand the subtler points of winter driving.  It’s tough in part because it’s counter-intuitive: to control the car, you need not only to be able to accept a relative lack of control, but to use that lack of control to your benefit.  Just like life.

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By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.