15 Sep 2014
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Winter Driving

Shared tips from a worried mother

Winter Driving

Here comes the rain again. Years ago, I clipped a newspaper article with tips on safe winter driving. Each November, I read it again and then copy it for each of our girls.

Accidents happen. That’s why they call them “Accidents” and not “On Purposes.” When I was in high school, I wrecked my mother’s (brand new) silver Buick with a full teenage carpool on board. That car was two weeks old and still had its paper license plates.

I was chatting (…no surprise…) when my best friend hollered, “Alice! Watch OUT!”

I looked up at glowing brake lights on the tail fins of some monster Lincoln-type car. I spun the wheel hard and clipped its rear taillight, dragging it the length of my car. In 1976 dollars, I caused $700 worth of damage.

An old angry man marched up to my window, shook his finger hard and said, “HEY, Sonny!” (I had really short hair at the time.) When he realized I was a girl and in tears, he backed away, hands up in a defensive stance.

“Oh, Sweetheart…  Don’t cry! My son owns a body shop. He can fix the tail light. Just go home and face your parents.”

I had to kick hard against the driver’s door to open it. I thought I was going to throw up but I made it home, pulled into our garage and tiptoed up the wooden basement stairs.

Dead Girl Walking…

When I reached the kitchen, my dad asked me about my day. I told him. He hugged me and said, “Honey Bun - Are you OK? Is everyone else OK?” I nodded, starting to cry again.

Over his shoulder my mother glared at me and said, “YOU… WRECKED…MY…BRAND…NEW…CAR?”

Then she stopped talking for several days. (I take after my mother. Suffice it to say, speechless is rare. That’s how I knew I was in deep scalding water.)

It was an accident. Cars crash into other cars. Sometimes it’s inexperience, sometimes it’s James Bond "007" in pursuit of a psycho-rogue agent, and sometimes it’s bad weather.

As a mother now and not a daughter, I list “professional worrier” at the top of my resume. So here’s an early gift to all my readers - something for your seasonal files. Print copies for your loved ones and an extra for next year’s reminder file:

WINTER DRIVING TIPS

  • Keep your windows clear. Use the defrosters and wipers, and make sure your wipers can do the job.
  • Adjust your speed for the conditions. Slow down. Leave at least three times the distance to stop in the rain. Remember you need a minimum of four to eight seconds between you and the car in front of you to stop safely.
  • Keep an eye on your tires. You need good tread to allow water to escape and give you traction.
  • Recognize hydroplaning hazards. Slow down, don’t hit the brakes or turn suddenly if the road is drenched, and try to drive in the tracks of the car ahead of you. Even a little bit of water between your tires and the road can cause your car to hydroplane. (I highly recommend a defensive driving course for any teenage driver. Ask yourself, “How much is my child’s life worth?” But don’t ask yourself right after they rolled their eyes at you, or wrecked your brand new Buick.)
  • If it’s foggy, drive with your lights on low beam, reduce your speed, and listen for the traffic you can’t see. Use your wipers and defrosters.
  • Get gas. Don’t drive with less than a quarter of a tank. (My parents paid for gas, but if I ever came home and left my mother with less than a quarter of a tank, it wasn’t pretty.)
  • Carry an emergency kit including flashlight, first aid kit, flares, a blanket, water and extra food. (“Two for one” tip - Doubles as good earthquake advice.)
  • Learn to steer around collisions. Steering is better than braking at speeds greater than 25 mph because it takes less distance to steer around an object than to brake to a stop.  In winter, slamming on the brakes can put you in a skid.
  • If you follow all the above rules and trouble finds you anyway, pull completely off the road, turn on your hazard lights, put out emergency reflectors or flares if you have them and get back in your car with your seat belt on, then call for help.
  • Keep your cell phone charged. It’s hard to call for help on a phone with a dead battery.
  • When you text your parents that you wrecked their car but you’re OK, please park safely before texting. Then start your message with, “I am OK, but I had an accident.” Those three words – “I am ok” – might save the life of a worried parent.

For more complete information, please visit http://calstate.aaa.com/auto/car-traffic-safety/winter-driving#winter_driving_tips

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