Winter driving for dummies

Nov. 15, 2010

Cherise Fantus
cfantus@uccs.edu

With winter fast approaching, I am beginning to dread the winter driving season. I am not worried about snowy or icy roads, nor my ability to handle them. I am concerned with my ability to control my temper when I encounter other drivers who have no idea how to handle the fluffy white powder.

According to bouldercounty.org, 70 percent of snow- or ice-related deaths involve motor vehicles. Many of those are certainly caused by circumstances out of the drivers’ control – black ice, a deer in the road or a runaway semi. A large portion, however, are caused by sheer stupidity.

From what I’ve witnessed during my first Colorado winter last year, many Colorado drivers have never bothered to learn to drive – well, ever – but especially in the winter. Either they have moved from another state where there is no snow in the winter, or they have chosen to stay home all winter and never bothered to learn how to drive safely. Either way, I fear for my life when they are on the road.

I am from North Dakota. The winters there are nothing like the winters here. For example, it doesn’t snow one day and melt the next, as it does here. There is a constant layer of snow on the ground, generally from the months of October through April. That layer is usually a few feet deep.

It snows frequently, so while the city plows the streets on a regular basis, there is often snow and/or ice on the roads. Everybody who drives has to know how to drive in such conditions because they have to get to work and school. If North Dakota drivers simply chose to stay home when the road conditions weren’t optimal, the entire state would have to shut down for the duration of the winter months.

I have driven through blizzards where I couldn’t see more than 20 feet in front of me, through ice and snow and unplowed streets. Needless to say, I get very annoyed when people freak out when there are a few snowflakes.

I have seen too many people brake around curves when it is icy. I’ve watched them slam on their brakes when they hit a patch of snow or ice because they think they need to slow down to be safe. I’ve watched people drive 20 miles per hour in a 45 mile-per-hour zone out of fear, making it dangerous for those who are driving at a reasonable, yet safe speed.

The rules of winter driving are actually quite simple. Slow down, but be reasonable. If you must drive at a ridiculously slow pace, stay in the right lane so those drivers who are traveling at a reasonable speed can safely pass. If you encounter ice, the best thing to do is to do nothing. Don’t brake; don’t slow down; don’t yank the wheel. If you must slow down, ease off the gas and brake gently if necessary. Never brake around curves. Travel at a safe speed at all times. Braking around curves is the easiest way to lose control, if that’s what you’re trying to do.

I realize that most of these tips are pure common sense. I only wish that the general population possessed the kind of common sense it takes to conquer as simple a task as driving a car.

Since that wish can never be granted, I would instead urge everyone, especially those completely lacking in the common sense department, to take a winter driving course. Not only will it make my life a lot safer and my blood pressure a bit lower, it will also decrease your insurance rates.