Recently, police in British Columbia pulled over a man who was not speeding, not exhibiting signs of intoxication, and obeying all traffic laws. Why was he formally escorted to the shoulder? His entire car—save a small tea-cup-sized circle on his windshield—was completely covered in ice and snow. If you’re looking at a picture, it’s a little funny. If you’re driving next to him, it’s not.
Winter poses all sorts of dangers (and apparently brings out the reckless drivers). Below are a few winter do’s and don’ts to keep you—and everyone around you—safe this season.
The Don’ts of Winter Driving
Unless you were a sailor in the 1700s on a man-of-war, there’s no reason to try to view the entire ocean through a tiny porthole, yet this is the scenario we create when we try to drive down the highway using only the porthole window cleared by the defroster after twenty minutes. This is certainly a don’t. You should wait for your entire window to clear before driving, as well as your side mirrors and side windows. Here are a few more winter don’ts:
- Don’t drive frustrated or fatigued. Sure, the holidays are warm and bright, but that doesn’t always cut out the stress, nor does it give you back those hours of sleep you spent shopping or wassailing. If you’re tired or feeling the push from holiday pressure, wait to drive or call a ride.
- Don’t start your car in a closed garage. This leads to monoxide poisoning, which leads to death. Please don’t think this is too obvious to mention. Many people who “just want to get the car warm for a few minutes” before venturing into the winter holocaust never venture anywhere again. It’s tragic, but completely avoidable. First, open your garage door, then back out. This alone will warm up your car!
- Don’t stop if you don’t need to. Remember that guy who said, “an object in motion tends to stay in motion”? Who was that—Isaac Newton? Fig Newton? Whoever he was, he said it right, and it comes back to us from high school physics class in all too real a way on winter roads. Never stop on a hill, and try to brake at lights in enough time to keep your car moving slightly forward until the light changes. This is because it is difficult to get a car rolling again on slick winter roads, and this can cause accidents and pile-ups since people will then have to brake quickly (risking spin out in icy conditions) to avoid you as you try to get the car moving again.
- Don’t accelerate and decelerate quickly. Sudden starts and stops will cause handling problems, especially in ice and snow, as you know. Maintain a consistent speed for best traction.
- Don’t use cruise control. While we do recommend maintaining consistent speed, icy roads are no place to use cruise control because they remove your ability to respond to hazardous road conditions. When you slide on ice, your car will carry its speed into and out of your slide, and that could spell d-i-s-a-s-t-e-r.
The Do’s of Winter Driving
Enough of the negative. We get that there’s a lot of stuff you shouldn’t do, but what about the stuff you should? Here are some winter do’s.
- Do keep de-icer or an ice scraper in your car, along with an emergency medical kit, warm clothes (hat, gloves, jacket), a blanket, a charged cell phone, and charger.
- Do keep your gas tank at least half filled. If you’re stuck in the ice, you will need gas to get unstuck and to run your heater until help comes!
- Do winterize your car before winter weather hits, and get your car inspected to determine needed repairs and replacements. Make sure your tires are dressed for the season!
- Do count your blessings daily. This will combat the stress, fatigue, and chill of those long, dark winter drives!
Now, get out there and make some holiday memories with family and friends with confidence that you can keep them safe on the drive!
- Published in Driving Conditions
For any interpersonal encounter to be successful, good communication must be present. Proper use of tone, symbols, expression and both verbal and body language can keep things flowing smoothly, and this is just as true on the roadway as it is in the bedroom or boardroom. Good driver communication can let you save your superior evasive action driving skills for another day.
Broadcasting from the Driver’s Seat
Communicating well from behind the wheel can prevent you from meeting other drivers by accident. While you are driving, you must do everything you can to communicate your intentions to other drivers. Modern automobiles come equipped with many features to make the task easy so make sure to take advantage of them.
Turn signals – A change in the direction of travel by a nearby car is a crucial piece of information for a driver to have so, for crying out loud, use your blinker! I used to think that turn signals were optional equipment on luxury cars as so few Lexus, Mercedes and Cadillac drivers use them. Just let me know where you are going. I’ll be happy to get the heck out of your way.
Brake lights – Unlike turn signals, these babies work automatically letting drivers behind on that you are slowing down. Unfortunately, brakes are the only way to reduce the car’s speed. The driver of a car with standard transmission may gear down, so you will want to be careful driving behind anyone. This is particularly the case at close range or in stop and go traffic.
Backup lights – This is another communiqué issued by the car itself letting those behind you know that you are backing up. However, it is up to you to give those who are sharing the road with the opportunity to see them. If you are preparing to back into a driveway or parking space, shift into reverse and hold a beat before you start your maneuver. This is definitely important when parallel parking. Without a little warning, the car behind you may presume that you are going to continue down the road and will pull in close behind, preventing you from pulling into the space.
Hazard lights – you are experiencing difficulty with your car, be sure to activate your hazard lights. That way other drivers can adjust and pulled around you instead of pulling in behind you waiting for you to move.
Horn – Carmakers should really work on this one. Horns could be so much more expressive. There should be separate honks for “Come on over,” “No, after you,” and “Watch out, you moron!” Until the car companies get this right, the horn should probably be saved for times when a collision appears imminent. Otherwise, other drivers could mistake your honk of greeting as an act of aggression and respond in kind.
There is one last piece of communication equipment remaining, but it is standard on the driver and not the car. I’m talking about the hands. Hands can be used to invite another driver to pull in front of you in traffic or to take your turn at the four way stop. Hands can be used wave a thank you to another driver who has extended you a courtesy. However you choose to use your hands to communicate with others you are sharing the road with, bear one thing in mind. Communication via hand is most effective when all the fingers are used.
- Published in Driver
Summer is quickly drawing to a close and, if he or she hasn’t already, your kiddo is headed back to school and you will be back to the daily grind of getting them there. Make sure that you have done all you can make that commute safe. Once you’ve covered the car seat basics, you can turn your attention to worrying about other things. Like whether or not they’re going to eat what you packed them for lunch.
Things Are Different Today
It’s been a long time since my kid’s first day of school. It was in a day long before tiny passengers had the option of an iPad or DVD player for distraction. There were many days when we had to resort to engaging in conversation. Imagine!
My advent of parenthood coincided with the advent of child safety seat laws. Now that my children have brought about the advent of my “grandparenthood,” it has been amazing to watch how much more safely you can get a kid from Point A to Point B today.
Car Seat Basics
An understanding of state law (and the laws of physics) will work together to keep your child safe. If you do have a school-aged child, car seats are probably not anything new to you but did a proper seat make the back-to-school shopping list? If you noticed that they had gotten a little taller when you shopped for pants, it could be that they need a different seat for the car as well. If you are not sure whether this growth spurt means anything more than just a bigger clothing budget, you should check your state’s requirements.
A Fresh Start for the First Day
Back-to-school may be a great excuse to clear up the evidence of summertime snacking from your backseat. Believe me, I’m not passing judgment here. An inspection of my car would reveal quite the collection of french fries, cookie crumbs and candy bar wrappers under the driver’s seat even as I write this. However, my suggestion is really not about automobile hygiene. When you’re back there gathering up discarded fruit snacks and Goldfish, take the opportunity to inspect the installation and condition of your child’s seat. If the inspection reveal signs of wear or damage, you may want to consider replacement.
One More Thing
As fast as summer came and went, cooler temperatures can’t be far behind. Don’t forget to make necessary adjustments to the straps of the car seat so that your child can remain safe and comfortable while wearing a coat.
At the risk of sounding like an old guy, I’m going to say this anyway. I often shake my head thinking about how I was hauled around as a child. It’s a wonder I’m alive to write this article. Make sure you are transporting your child safely to all of childhood’s points of interest by making sure they are getting there in the proper child safety seat.
- Published in Vehicle
Since I was a kid, I have had dreams in which I know how to fly. Not like a bird or a plane or Superman but, instead, in a way I can only describe as “sitting on the wind.” These nocturnal adventures feature me leaning back into a stiff breeze, lifting my feet and cruising effortlessly in a seated position. This probably explains my lifelong obsession with bicycling, motorcycling and driving a convertible.
About that “Until It Isn’t” Part
The feeling of freedom I get driving or riding in the open air is hard to beat. However, having taken falls on both bicycle and motorcycle, I can tell you that colliding with things harder than open air can be rough. Thankfully, to date, I haven’t figured out a way to fall off my convertible.
If you are a fan of getting from point A to point B in the most wide-open way possible, choosing the right motorcycle safety gear needs to be high on your list of priorities. A minor accident in a car is no big deal because you are surrounded by steel. The same “minor accident” could be fatal if all you have around you is your skin.
Before you throw your leg over your bike, use this handy checklist to make sure you’re doing all you can to keep yourself safe.
Start at the Top – Even if a helmet is not a required riding accessory in your state, your chances of critical injury or death are reduced exponentially if you wear one. I took a low-speed (20 mile-per-hour) header off a bike once and suffered a brain bleed even with the helmet. I can’t imagine how my life would have changed had I not had it on.
Move Down from There – No matter how tough you feature yourself to be, your skin is still pretty tender compared to all the other surfaces it can bang up against in the driving environment. Your hands and feet are fragile too and, since over half of the bones in your body are found there, you want to do all you can to protect them. A good pair of gloves and proper footwear are a worthwhile investment. Make sure any gloves you by offer protection without sacrificing dexterity and make sure you’re riding boots fit both you and your bike. Riding isn’t nearly as fun when you can’t ship out of first gear because your shoes are too big.
Covering the Whole Package – When selecting appropriate clothing for your ride, make sure that it doesn’t bind or restrict your movement. Depending on the time of year, you may need to consider the insulating effect of the clothing. It’s amazing how cold a mild temperature feels when you throw in a 60 mile-per-hour wind chill factor. Depending on the time of year in your writing style, you may also want to consider gear that is waterproof and/or padded.
I understand that this much preplanning flies in the face of the freedom that bikers are looking for. Evaluating your safety needs and all the ways to address them is a lot to think about, but while you’re thinking, think about this. At the end of the day, you only have one body. Prepare well, take care of it, enjoy your ride and come home safely.
- Published in Driver
You roll out of bed to a sunshiny summer day just made for cruising. You jump behind the wheel, buckle up, stow your cell phone and reach for your Ray-Bans. You’ve done everything to put safety first, right? Would you be interested to know that there is one more thing you can do that can decrease your chances of a crash by over 15%?
Before putting your car in gear, do yourself one more favor and flip on your headlights. Hang on, you might be thinking. Didn’t you just say it was a bright summer day? Won’t the sun give me plenty of light to see everything I need to see? While you are certainly right to think this, sometimes it’s not about you.
While out on the roadway, it is not just important that you are able to see. It is every bit as critical for your safety that you are seen. Of course, daytime driving with headlights makes the most sense at dusk and dawn or in the fog or rain, but even in direct sunlight you are more easily detected by other drivers when you have them on.
It is the law in many states that headlights be used 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset or any time when visibility is reduced to less than 1000 feet. Some states also mandate the use of headlights any time conditions require the use of windshield wipers. Whether or not your state regulates any of these practices, it’s still a good idea to use your headlights this way.
Seems Like a Good Idea to Carmakers, Too
Because of the increased safety they afford, many automakers offer models that have headlights that will activate automatically when conditions require, and others go a step further by installing Daytime Running Lights. DRL’s can be deactivated by the operator must statistics indicate that keeping them on his best safety practice. In fact, DRL’s are legally required equipment in countries such as Finland, Hungary, Canada and Denmark which begs the question, why not here in the US? A quick review in geography may explain why other countries adopted daytime running lights before we did here in the states. Countries situated in northern latitudes potentially have more hours where the sun casts long shadows. In this type of driving environment, DRL’s are particularly helpful. However, a little history review may also shed some light on why the United States has drug its feet.
In the late 80s and early 90s, carmakers lobbied against the creation of laws requiring the installation of DRL’s. As with most things, following the money reveals that, at the end of the day, this was an expense the automakers may not have been willing to bear, despite the increased safety it provided for their buyers. Others speaking against such regulation voiced concern about the added expense for drivers driving with headlights on at all times. This concern was quickly dispelled by calculations performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Accounting for bulb replacement and additional fuel requirement, the NHTSA reported that drivers would incur an added annual expense of between three and $15, a small price to pay for crash reduction.
Don’t Hide in Plain Sight
As a responsible driver, you should do everything in your power to keep you, your passengers and others on the roadway safe. If your car did not come with DRL’s, there are aftermarket choices that may work for you. Even if there are none compatible with your make and model, you can still drive with your low beams on. And while this is true in a car, on a motorcycle it is doubly so. If you scoot down the highway with no walls, you definitely want to be noticed.
- Published in Vehicle
In recent years, if American medicine has taught us anything, it’s that there is a pill for everything. Can’t fall asleep At night? Try this one. Can’t seem to get enough done during the day? Give this one a shot.
The media airways are inundated with snake oil pitching. Underneath a beautiful montage of happy people doing happy things, there is the rapid-fire delivery of the price you might pay for this miracle cure…
- Breathing difficulties
- Increased heart rate
- Decreased heart rate
- Inability to find car keys
- Uncontrollable flatulence
- Fatal diarrhea
After hearing these commercials, I wonder how many people choose not to take the medicine preferring to deal with the problem they have rather than taking on more problems trying to fix it.
Another potential side effect of many medications is a loss of motor skill, a condition that can lead to a loss in motoring skills. In their search for relief, many people do not stop to consider the fact that a prescription medication can affect their ability to drive. A car is a pretty heavy piece of machinery, so, if you can’t pick yours up, don’t take a medication warning against operation against it.
I’d Never Drive After Drinking
And, thankfully, most other people wouldn’t either. However, many drivers wouldn’t think twice about jumping behind the wheel after downing a couple of allergy pills or a swig of cough syrup. Prescription meds are a different animal than alcohol. A careful and experienced social drinker has learned over time how alcohol might affect them. People don’t have the benefit of that type of track record with a new prescription. When someone is taking a medication, their primary goal is to feel better, not to evaluate how it affects their driving ability.
How Do I Say This?
Pharmaceutical companies walk a fine line when it comes to labeling their products. Legally they must inform consumers about potential dangers but phrase it in such a way that their products will still be purchased. Vague statements like “May cause drowsiness” meet the minimum requirement of truthful labeling, but what exactly does that mean?
When Spring Is in the Air
As we tumble headlong into “seasonal allergy” season, it is difficult for those who suffer just to get to the car. The neighborhood fairly hums with the sound of lawnmowers and weed eaters making it nearly impossible to make it from the front door to the car without stirring up the sniffles. This is the time of year when many people can’t make it through the day without the help of an antihistamine. Both over-the-counter and prescription versions of these little marbles are high on the list of those meds that “may cause drowsiness,” so you may want to try one on the day you don’t have to drive.
If you are starting a regimen of a new prescription, take special care and be advised that many medications can interact with alcohol, multiplying the effects of both. Alternately, if you are not currently on medication, be particularly vigilant for other drivers who may be relying on medication to get them through the spring.
- Published in Driver