Commentary: Your Driving This Winter Really Stinks

 This is not about climate change. Although there will be some who might argue one way or another.

It is about this round of winter that our country had to endure so far. We had it all. There was rain, sleet, slush, snow, and sub-zero temperatures. This is not just in Minnesota, mind you.

I have not forgotten the "Polar Vortex." That was quite an experience, wasn’t it?

 A winter like this – along with multiple rounds of storms ranging from dustings to blizzard conditions – can be a challenge to motorists.

As this post is being published, the Upper Midwest experienced a terrible mix of snow and wind. The blizzard conditions shut down parts of Interstate and state highways, as well as entire communities. A report on KARE 11 (the NBC affiliate in the Twin Cities) last night showed truck drivers hunkered down at a truck stop concerned about conditions in the southern part of Minnesota.

The problem that has plagued every winter is that we may have forgotten how to drive in it. Or, equip our vehicle accordingly. We take to social media to either broadcast our displeasure to the SUV driver who thinks that their all-wheel-drive system is invincible to go beyond the speed limit with black ice underneath it. We extol the virtues of winter tires and shame those who get into accidents because their vehicles weren’t shod with them.

You would think that a place where winter is a normal routine for us. You hear your elders tell tales of long walks to school in half-foot high snow and that the schools never close on days where the temperatures are well below freezing.

What happened?

First off, a poll. A website called SafeWise, listed the worse winter drivers by each state. Want to know who made the "top 10"? Here's the list…

  1. Wyoming
  2. Vermont
  3. Montana
  4. Idaho
  5. Maine
  6. Michigan
  7. Iowa
  8. New Maxico
  9. Minnesota
  10. Nebraska

This is disturbing. All of these states have winter conditions in one form or another. Some of these states get it worst than others on the list. But is this list enough to point fingers at each other – or, ourselves?

SafeWise’s poll indicated some facts that may help in why they came up with these conclusions. They claim that there were more auto accidents in rainy conditions than snowy conditions – 2,145 vs. 445 in 2016. Fatalities from auto accidents were higher in 2016 – 2,368 in the rain vs. 482 in the snow.

These are just numbers. What about observations?

Rather, what about experience?

OK…understand that I lived most of my life in my birth state of California. I haven not experienced a rea; winter until I visited Philadelphia and Washington, DC in early 1996. I began driving in wintry conditions once I moved to Northern Virginia in 1997. Even with twenty years of winter driving experience, I am astonished at two facts: I only had one accident during this time of year, and I cannot trust other drivers during and after a snowfall or extreme temperature drop.

As much as I have to for this work, I do feel uneasy driving in winter.

Is it my winter driving skills? No. I know plenty of car control tips and do trust most of the systems these vehicles have today. However, it does come down to tires. Only a few vehicles I had worked with over the past eight years came with winter or all-terrain tires. Specifically, winter tires truly do make the difference between vehicle control and getting through a rough commute in the Twin Cities.

Which brings me to my first piece of advice: Invest in winter tires. If you live in a place where you have to get through winter with snow and ice on the roads, a good set of winter tires and a second set of wheels will make a difference between getting home and getting stuck. Or, getting involved in an accident.

Here is another thing you may want to think about: headlights. If you think you can be seen when it is snowing – or raining – you are perhaps wrong. The solution would be your daytime running lights. Actually, most motorists might not see you with just your DRLs on.

Do us all a favor and turn on your lights during inclement weather. Not just your DRLs – your low beams. And, while you’re at it – your fog lamps, if equipped. I'd rather have you seen when the road conditions are at its worst.

One last thing. Did you know that the snow piled up on the roof, hood, and trunk can be a hazard to other motorists? Do us all a favor and clear off the snow from your vehicle before you go anywhere. It takes at least a few minutes…maybe 15 or so…to ensure you'll be the safest vehicle on the road.

This all sounds like common sense. You would be surprised to know that many of your fellow motorists do not see it this way. That is what irks me. People think linearly – they have to go somewhere. Ask them a question – would you like to get there in one piece?

As we batten down for more snowfall before we get that "promised" early spring by that insipid Punxsutawney groundhog, consider the fact that parts of North America have to deal with this every year. We forget sometimes how we are supposed to handle driving in winter. This selective amnesia and feigned ignorance over safety is really getting old, folks!

All photos by Randy Stern

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