Dear fellow Seattle citizens,
Please stop freaking out every time we get a dusting of snow. It is unbecoming. Now, we’ve talked about rules of the road on this blog already (see my earlier post on Inappropriate driving behaviors), and it appears that it is time yet again for a stern talkin’-to.
The weather that we had here in Seattle last week would simply be considered a lovely spring day where I’m from in Wisconsin—certainly nothing to close schools and reroute public transportation over. Admittedly, I love the cold weather, I love the snow, and I love getting outside in winter, so perhaps I am more than just a little bit biased in this regard. Still, I worry about my fellow Seattle citizens when I see cars abandoned on the freeway amidst mere snow flurries, as if the apocalypse had arrived. There’s no need for such calamity and alarm, I assure you!
Certainly, we would fare a lot better if we had a little help from Seattle’s city officials by way of reliable and adequate snow-plowing, salting, and proper road closures. If the city could get its shit together and shrink the budget through other means (I mean, really—how much can salt cost?), I think we’d all have a much easier time getting around. However, allow me to take this opportunity to help curb the many inappropriate driving behaviors so many Seattle folks exhibit during the occasional winter weather we do get.
1. Every car has different handling characteristics. You should know what your car can and cannot do in the snow. (Hint: It can’t do any of the things it was doing on the TV commercial that made you buy it.) You should know if you have front, rear, part-time or full-time four-wheel drive, antilock brakes, traction control, and stability control. You should know what kind of tires are on the car, and how all those things work and how they help you or don’t help you. Get used to the process of letting the engine slow down the car, rather than relying on frequent braking.
If you’re nervous about driving in winter, consider spending some time practicing. Go to an empty parking lot and try sending the car into a little skid on purpose. The first thing I do when I put the car into drive and ease onto the road is to test the brakes to see how they respond to the road conditions. Getting a “feel” for it is important. Slam on the brakes, then practice turning into the skid to see what happens. Practice until you’re comfortable regaining control of the car. Doing this in a large, empty parking lot (preferably without light poles) allows you the luxury of skidding without ending up flat on your back, looking up into the eyes of seven different EMTs. The more comfortable you are maintaining control and regaining control, the better a winter driver you’ll be.
2. If you live in an area where it snows a fair amount, you should get four good snow tires. Nothing will make a bigger difference. By the way, lots of tire shops will offer to store your regular tires over the winter and then store your snow tires in the summer. This is a great deal. The only potential problem is that when they file a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, they’ll have four of your tires in their basement, so you’ll have to break in and retrieve them.
3. Here’s one service item that’s often forgotten: tire pressure. Ask your mechanic to check it, or do it as soon as winter arrives. Why? Because tire pressure drops by about one pound per ten degrees of temperature. So, if it’s -10 now, and the last time you checked your tire pressure was back during that sweltering heat wave in July, your tires will be dangerously low and will jeopardize your car’s handling.
4. Another easy maintenance item–be sure that your current wiper blades clean the windshield well, and allow you to see clearly in wet weather. Even when there’s no active precipitation, water from melting snow and slush or truck tires is often thrown up onto your windshield. And if you can’t see, you can’t drive very well.
5. Once snow or ice does arrive, take some extra time to make sure your car is clean and your visibility is good. Clear off the entire car–not just a little peephole in the windshield. You need just as much, if not more, visibility in poor conditions because you have to keep your eyes peeled for pedestrians, and every other knucklehead on the road. Make sure every glass surface is clear and transparent by using a snowbrush and/or ice-scraper. Your side-view mirrors and all lights should be brushed and cleared as well.
Now, if you haven’t been smart enough to do so already, clean the snow off the rest of the car. Why? Because the rest of the snow will either (A) slide off the roof and cover your windshield as you’re slowing down; or (B) fly off onto someone else’s windshield and causing him or her to smash into you. That’s not enough of a reason? Fine. Here’s another: (C) it’s the law in many states that your vehicle must be clear of snow and ice.
Clean your headlights. Even if you think they don’t need it.
6. Even with good coolant, snow tires, stability control, all-wheel drive, and the bag of Doritos in the trunk, keep in mind that driving in snow, sleet, and ice is very treacherous. And even if you maintain control of your car, not everyone else will. Accelerate slowly and gently, turn slowly and gently, and brake slowly and gently. To do this, you have to anticipate turns and stops. That means what? Going slowly and leaving and leaving plenty of distance between you and other cars. Rapid movements lead to skids and loss of control. Drive as if there were eggs on the bottoms of your feet–step on the gas and the brake pedals so gently that you don’t break the eggshell.
7. And finally, stop complaining. Two inches of snow that melt in an hour do not constitute catastrophe. Get a shovel, an ice-scraper, some salt, and grow a pair of balls.