Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Top 10 Winter Driving Tips Ala Morgana

It occurred to me as I was driving over Snoqualmie Pass with a white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel that I was probably surrounded by a lot of people a lot more terrified than I was. The thought terrified me even more, because there is nothing scarier than being unable to trust the people driving around you. Since the normally one-hour trek took me almost three hours, I had more than enough examples and experiences to help prove my point. I decided that I could perhaps help the average driver with their trek in an oversized metal cage drifting sideways on rubber over compact frozen water. I’ve been driving through snowy passes for a long time, and I still learned some things this trip. If I help one person avoid a winter driving tragedy like wetting their pants while driving this year, I will have succeeded.

So, my completely unofficial top 10 winter driving tips:

10) Stay home. No, really. I don’t care if you promised your Aunt Edna a visit. If the pass report tells you that chains are required and you only have a vague idea of what chains are and how they work, that means that you should call Aunt Edna and tell her there was a huge avalanche and the pass has been buried until spring. Promise you’ll send her a care package via airmail.

09) Don’t listen to the TV reporters. Even if they’re getting the same information you are off the Department of Transportation website, they’re going to make it sound like the biggest blizzard ON RECORD has swept in and carried away cars whole like some sort of hungry abominable snowman. If you tend to believe TV reporters, see #10 and stay home.

08) Don’t skimp and get the cheap windshield wipers. Buy winter wipers at the beginning of winter, and windshield wiper fluid good to below zero, even if you live somewhere like Seattle where their entire winter plowing budget was eaten up by an afternoon snowstorm. I have learned through personal experience that you can drive approximately 15 miles per hour faster if you can see through your windshield, and that means less people like me honking from behind you. (Unless I’m in front of you cursing my windshield wipers…sorry.)

07) Just because you have an SUV or all-wheel drive does NOT mean you get to weave in and out of traffic like there isn’t an ice-skating rink below your tires. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but most of the vehicles on passes in the middle of a blizzard are truck-drivers, and they can’t stop as fast as you can anyway, so what makes you think cutting them off is going to make you friends, or any less likely to end up a squished metal pancake?

06) Stop and pee often. While you’re there, get gas and extra windshield wiper fluid. There is nothing worse than white-knuckle driving over a snowy pass surrounded by semis being unable to completely concentrate because you think you might wet your pants.


05) There are more ways to slow down than stomping on your brakes, like 1) lightly tapping your brakes repeatedly (NOTE: most useful when you can at least somewhat see the road under the snow, when there are not a bunch of people behind you, and when you’re not going over 30 miles an hour) 2) DOWNSHIFT. But Morgan, you say, I have an automatic. You can still switch out of drive into third, second or first gear (NOTE: not recommended for high speeds, but VERY useful when wanting to move slowly down a hill, or to slow down without stomping on the brakes. 3) Take your foot off the gas (Most useful for going uphill).

04) If you do start to slide, turn into the slide, but don’t jerk into the slide. Screaming does not actually get your tires back where you want them. Be ok with your tires not always being exactly where you want them. If you’re not okay with that, see # 10.

03) I know you want to, but it’s really not a good idea to reach out your window and grab your windshield wiper off the windshield and slam it back down while you’re driving through a sea of freezing rain in a tunnel of semi-trucks in 50-mile-an-hour blowing snow. Yes, I realize that it helps get the ice chunks off, but trust me when I tell you from personal experience that it could strip the threads on the windshield wiper so it consequently flops around like a broken bird wing on your windshield instead of actually working. This particularly sucks when you’re in the afore-mentioned sea of chaos and can no longer see through the window to get off the road, and what are you going to do when you get there anyway? See # 8 for prevention tips.

02) You should be more comfortable going faster uphill than you are going downhill, simply because it’s easier to slow down going uphill if you start to slip. This means that you should have a handle on downhill driving in a lower gear – see # 5. If you’re unable to keep your speed in check going downhill (and especially if you have problems with this going uphill), see #10.

01) Even if you’ve never driven on the road before, it should be a clue to you if there are two cars side by side right behind you that YOU’RE TAKING UP TWO F*CKNG LANES, JACKASS. I know it’s really scary to be close to the side of the road, but for the love of all that’s frozen, MOVE OVER.


Love and snowy pass kisses

Morgan