Bad Weather Driving: Keep Calm and Drive On

In light of recent wintery weather finally arriving in my city of residence, I figured now would be a good time to talk a bit about driving in bad weather.

This is a tricky one.  It really all depends on the vehicle you have and the exact driving conditions you’re in.  If you’re in an all-wheel drive Subaru with studded snow tires, you’re basically the epitome of winter vehicle.  If you’re in a Camry with balding all-seasons, you should stay home.

The number one rule in bad weather driving is do not tailgate. Well, that and maybe go slow, but I cannot express how important maintaining a good following distance is.  You cannot stop as quickly in snowy weather, and you cannot maneuver as quickly in snowy weather.

The second rule is do things gradually.  This is my weakness.  Gradually apply pressure to the accelerator, and gradually apply pressure to the brakes.  Trying to speed up to quickly will just cause the wheels to spin in place and you’ll slide or not go anywhere.  Applying the brakes too quickly will cause you to slide as well because you’re not giving the tires a chance to catch on to something to slow down.

Rule number three is don’t drive like an idiot.  Everyone always says, “Be careful!  People are driving like idiots out there.”  I wonder if the people that are actually doing the knucklehead driving say this as well?  Just drive normally (well, a slower normally).  Drive at a speed that is comfortable for you, but not too slow to the point that people are getting pissed at you (or just chill in the right lane with your hazard lights on).  Be on extra alert for any changes in environment, handling, and traction–then adjust accordingly. No need to panic because there happens to be precipitation falling from the sky.

The fourth rule could be don’t panic.  If you lose traction, don’t start flailing, hitting every pedal your feet can touch at one time, and ripping the steering wheel from one side to the other… unless you’re in a parking lot and having some fun.  Out on the roads, stay calm.  What’s that thing going around?  Keep calm and carry on?  Keep calm and drive on.

Then there are just some general knowledge things to remember when driving in wintery conditions.

a.) Don’t drive too close to a truck that’s salting the roads.

b.) Drive in the same track as the person ahead of you.  This at least gets you closer to pavement.  Just don’t focus solely on staying in their tracks, though.  Keep in mind your surroundings.

c.) Things get more slippery at night.  Those tracks I just talked about?  If the roads aren’t salted, those can get pretty icy at night.  Less people driving on it means less heat and nighttime means colder conditions, so those wet tracks become ice tracks.  I think, but don’t quote me on this, that in those situations, moving off the tracks and into the snow (given your tire condition and driving ability) is better.  Either way, go slow.

d.) In near white out conditions, find a constant on the road that you can follow to make sure you maintain your position and stay on the road. I experienced this when I was driving home through a snowstorm in Virginia.  The roads were pretty much covered.  I had to keep an eye on the reflective while on the right side of the road to make sure I stayed on the road and in my lane.  Thankfully there weren’t many people, but there were also no streetlights on long stretches of that journey so my headlights and the road were all I really had.  Heaps of fun.  Driving slow, keeping tabs on surroundings, and tracing the white line were all important factors in me getting home safely.

e.) Areas between lanes are slippery.  Always be very very very careful when changing lanes in snowy conditions.

f.) Keep to the main roads.  Side streets are often not plowed or salted and are therefore very treacherous to drive on.  If you must travel on a road that is not plowed or treated, drive slowly.   It’s safer to drive slowly on side streets because there is less traffic and less people to rear-end you for going slow.

g.) I’ve always been told not to stop in a snowstorm.  I’ve also heard that if conditions are bad enough, you should pull as far off the road as you safely can and leave your hazard lights on to let people know you’re there.  Stopping sounds like an all around bad idea–you can get stuck/buried, someone can run off the road and hit you, and it’s a little dangerous to try to pull off the road when you can’t see where the road really is.  Keep moving forward, if it’s bad enough move forward very slowly, maintaining proper distances between the car ahead of you, and staying calm.

–Most of the stuff that applies to snow applies to heavy thunderstorms as well.  In torrential downpours, have the wipers going as fast as you can and look out for anything with lights.  Look for the brake lights of the cars ahead of you to judge distance.  Do not go faster than you are comfortable, but keep up with the flow of traffic.  Don’t make any sudden movements if you happen to hydroplane (hydroplaning is totally fun, I don’t know why everyone freaks out about it).    Keep calm and drive on.  If you want to wait out the storm, exit the highway or roadway and chill in a parking lot until you’re okay with the conditions.

I couldn’t resist:

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***If I’m forgetting anything, feel free to let me know and I’ll add it to the list.***

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GET OFF THE PHONE!!!!!!

It makes you drive like a complete and utter douchebag!

In many states, it is illegal to use a handheld cellular device while driving.  But has that stopped anyone?  About as much as speed limits stop people from speeding.

People texting at lights miss the light turning green, which pisses everyone off.  People texting or talking on the phone tend to go a lot slower while driving, or go up and down in speed constantly, which pisses everyone off.  They also fail to maintain their lane most of the time, so they have to jerk the car back onto the road or back into their lane to avoid hitting people, which also pisses everyone off.

The whole talking-on-the-phone-while-driving thing is obviously more problematic in states where it is not illegal to do so. The amount of times I feared for my life while encountering someone operating a vehicle while at the same time attempting to operate a phone is astronomical.  I’m sure this is no different from anyone else’s experience.

Driving is the sort of the thing that should not be part of a multitasking endeavor.  You multitask with little things, like talking on the phone while cooking dinner perhaps.  Or talking on the phone, typing on the computer, drinking coffee, and making frantic gestures to someone in the same room.  These are small things.  Unless you catch the house on fire while cooking, you’re not going to hurt anyone.  As cheesy as those anti-texting-while-driving PSAs may be, they’re in essence true.  You are far more likely to hurt/kill yourself and someone else if you’re multitasking while driving.  So don’t do it.

  • If you’re running late, don’t apply make-up, shave, or eat breakfast in the car.  First of all, your car deserves more respect than to have gross shit like that in it.  McGriddle wrappers from weeks past should not remain in the vehicle.  If you must eat something, eat at red lights, then put it down when you must drive again.
  • If you must talk on the phone for some reason while driving, make it brief or pull over somewhere to ramble.  Seriously, if you’re behind or next to someone driving like a dick, there’s a pretty big likelihood that they’re on the phone.  Or just a terrible driver.  It’s 50/50 at times.
  • Do not multitask while driving.  Driving is a very mentally active activity.  You should be taking in and processing the sensory data surrounding you at all times.  What are the traffic conditions ahead and behind me?  Where are all the cars in my line of sight?  Where are all of the cars behind me?  What are the driving personalities of those in close proximity?  Where am I?  What’s my nearest exit?  What lane should I be in?  Are there police anywhere up ahead or behind?  How fast am I going?  How fast is everyone else going?  What are the road conditions?  What’s the meaning of life?  I can understand how driving can get a little mundane if it’s a familiar drive or if it’s a long drive through the middle of nowhere, but that doesn’t mean you should try to watch a movie or play a game on your iPhone while driving.
  • The only multitasking I approve of is singing along with the music you’re listening to.

I personally do not like to drive with passengers.  I’m not very talkative while I drive because I find myself not really listening to my passenger(s).  I have met some wonderful drivers who can hold conversations and drive perfectly well.  I, however, cannot.  When I drive, I don’t much like doing anything else other than drive.  I enjoy the act of driving, so why not focus on that?  Not everyone enjoys driving, just like not everyone enjoys spicy foods… Except people that don’t like spicy foods tend to avoid them, whereas people that don’t like driving are clogging the roads like plaque in arteries–and they’re just as dangerous.  And on that strange metaphor, I’ll leave with this summary:  While driving, drive; while talking on the phone, talk.  Just don’t do them at the same time.

Slow vehicle turnouts

On a joyous, though unfortunately slow, drive through some mountains yesterday, my significant other and I came across a bunch of ass holes who, for reasons unknown, refused to use the slow vehicle turnouts kindly provided for them.

Why?  Why will people not use slow vehicle turnouts when they are clearly the slow vehicle causing a blockage of over 10 cars behind them, putsing along going 35 mph in a 40 mph zone?  WHYYYYYY?????!?!?!?!?!?!?!  Several posted signs say that slow traffic MUST use turnouts.  It really should be illegal to cause a blockage of over 5 cars on any given road.

Alas, today’s lesson is going to be about using slow vehicle turnouts (and the shoulder of a road if turnouts are not provided):

Part I.  The slow vehicle turnout

On many two-lane mountain passes, slow vehicle turnout areas are provided.  The purpose of the these areas is to allow slower moving traffic (the intended targets were/are probably trucks and larger vehicles) to get out of the way of faster traffic behind them.  This allows everyone to reach their destination safely and with their sanity still intact.

But, for some reason, painfully obviously slow drivers refuse to use these ingenious features.  It’s not as if they don’t know one is coming–there are signs alerting drivers to the presence of turnout areas many many yards in advance (plus it’s not like these people are really driving too fast to miss them).  Yet even with someone driving very close behind them, flashing the high beams a couple of times, and swerving behind them, these idiots we were driving behind (I wasn’t driving, by the way) would not pull into any one of the four turnouts we passed.  Eventually the driver I was with that day pulled a bit of an illegal maneuver and we got around the person in front of us.  But all this could have easily been avoided, like everything else,  if people would stop being such dicks.

If it is clear, or even slightly hinted at, that the person behind you wants to pass you and turnouts are provided, please use them.  This really should not hurt your ego and doesn’t mean you “lost” some mental battle you’re having with the driver behind you (both which I’m assuming are the main causes for driver dickness).

Signal about 500-1000 feet before the turnout to tell the person behind you that you do have a soul and will be out of their way as soon as you can.  Move into the turnout, look behind you to see if there are any other vehicles coming, then move back onto the road when it is safe and continue on your journey stress-free.

To the drivers behind the slow-movers:  As I always say, try your best not to tailgate or be overly rude.  Also, try not to cross a double-yellow line to pass someone…  not a good idea and is illegal.  But, I’m just going to leave that at try not to do it.

Part II.  Using the shoulder

Basically, this one applies to every other two lane road in the US.  These roads don’t say anything about slow traffic pulling over (though they’ll often have a sign that says “do not pass”).  Given there is an appropriately sized shoulder, there is, in essence, a turnout area everywhere.  If someone is following too closely behind you or if you are simply sightseeing and are driving slower than usual, you can always just signal, pull over onto the shoulder, allow the driver behind you to pass, and continue on your way when the coast is clear.  Way too many people forget this or refuse to do it.  As I said in the post about speed a couple of weeks ago, it is not your job to regulate the speed of people driving behind you.  Do not think “I am already driving fast enough.   You can just hold your horses, mister.”… or whatever version of that you actually say to yourself in those situations.  Pull over, let them pass, and everyone will have a much happier driving experience.

The same note for the faster driver seen in Part I applies here as well.

You could also wait for passing segments on the road you are driving on or passing lanes that may appear at some point.  Only pass when it is safe and when it is legal *cough*.

To be perfectly honest, this really is the fault of the slower driver if they refuse to take the opportunity to allow those behind them to pass.  It’s creating a volatile atmosphere on the road which rarely ends well.  You slow people know who you are and you carry the responsibility to drive slowly safely, just as those of us who drive quickly carry the responsibility of speeding safely.

Patience

Patience, people.

Supposedly it’s a virtue.  For me, it’s a bit of a myth.  But that’s all I have to say about driving for today:

                               patience

                                                   patience

                                                                         patience.

Deep breaths.  Happy thoughts.  Sing along with the radio.  Play through your favorite movie scene in your head.  Please do ANYTHING that will calm you down enough to not tailgate or cut people off or any other asinine things impatience makes you do.

Be patient.

Don’t pull out in front of people when there is no one behind them

This is a pretty common problem everywhere.  You’re at a light or a stop sign, and traffic is pretty light.  There’s someone waiting to turn right.  There is a small gap between you and the car in front of you and absolutely no one  behind you.  The car waiting to turn decides to gun it to make it into the gap between you and the car in front of you.  90% of the time, they’ll pull out quickly, and then proceed to go at a ridiculously slow speed, causing you to slam on your breaks and ask the traffics gods what you did to offend them to deserve this.

A major part of driving is working together.  The other part is patience.

Let us diagram this:

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(Sorry for the small size…  Didn’t plan it that way.  And I’m really sad I couldn’t make it bigger because the stop sign I drew is totally baller.)

As we can see here, the black car is looking to make a right turn.  There is a potential space between the maroon car and the blue car, but there is also plenty of open space after the blue car.  All the black car needs to do is wait for the blue car to pass, and then they will be able to make their turn without endangering themselves or others.

This scenario applies to light traffic.  If you’re at the intersection above, but there’s a long line of never ending cars, then you may have to take advantage of small gaps or people turning.  There is a right and wrong way to do this though.

You may be able to pull out into traffic if someone makes a right turn onto the street you’re coming from:

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This can be tricky though.  Are they actually turning?  Did they just leave their blinker on?  Are they turning into this street or the next street?  How quickly will they make the turn?  Will they make the turn from the shoulder allowing the cars behind them to pass, therefore eliminating your chance to turn?  You must take into account all the factors before you make a decision.  If the gray car in the picture above is not turning from the shoulder and can successfully block people from passing them during their turn, I would wait until the car just starts to make its turn before I’d pull out into the lane.  You can’t always trust people’s signals, and there isn’t a re-do button if you pull out in front of them and end up causing an accident because they weren’t actually turning (not experienced first hand).  If the situation seems unsafe, wait.  You won’t get in an accident if you chill at the stop sign a little longer (unless of course you get rear-ended by some asshole, but let’s not assume the worst case scenario.)

Another option is to go for it when you do see any opening.  The important part of squeezing oneself into gaps in traffic is acceleration.  If you’re going to pull out in front of someone, you better speed the fuck up.  Obviously, it will depend on the car you have as to how big of a space you need.  If you’re in an R8, you’ll probably be able to accelerate to an acceptable speed pretty quickly so you don’t need too big of a gap.  If you’re in a Tacoma, you won’t be able to accelerate as quickly as the Audi, and you’re a bit bigger, so you’ll need to wait for a larger gap.  Whatever you do, DO NOT pull out in front of someone and proceed to go slower than the flow of traffic.  Leave a following cushion between you and the car ahead of you, but do not let that car get too far away.  Keep up with the speed of traffic, and maybe the person you cut off will forgive you.  Go slowly, and they’ll plot to kill you in your sleep.

Please keep in mind that there is always the option of waiting for a safer scenario.  You may be waiting at that stop sign for a couple minutes before an acceptable gap opens up, but waiting is a lot better than crashing.

For the love of all that is holy, please drive at LEAST a mile or two over the speed limit.

This one has been a long time in the making: A discussion about speed.  As most of you know (because I doubt anyone I don’t know really reads this), I have a bit of a lead foot.  I’m not an ass-hole speeder, though.  There are differences.  Ass-hole speeders 1) tailgate, 2) weave in and out of lanes of traffic, 3) honk at people who are driving slowly, 4) generally cross multiple lanes of traffic in one motion to get around slower drivers, 5) often don’t signal, and 6) piss everyone off.  I do not do these things when I speed.  I slow down when I approach slower drivers.  I may get mad at them, but I leave adequate room between their car and mine, I always signal, I go lane by lane (enter one lane, pause, enter the next, pause, etc.), I do not honk at people, and I try my best to not piss anyone off.  I like to call it “safe speeding”.  People laugh whenever I say that, but there is a right way and a wrong way to speed.

As I have said before, driving is a group activity.  Driving is also fun.  I’d like to emphasize the fun here.  When I speed, it’s not always to get somewhere.  I’m not necessarily racing people to my destination.  I speed because driving quickly is fun.  Driving slowly is not fun.  Granted, there are very legal ways to cure this fix—autocross, track days, organized drag racing, and many other organized auto sports that would allow me to cure the speed-need.  But, there’s a long time between seasons and I can’t so much afford the big time racing activities, so I drive “quickly” on the open road.

There are rules that govern my speed though.  I will not push my car to the limits around other drivers.  When I do have my fun and go 90+, 100+, 110+, 120+, 130+, I make sure that (especially when I drive over 100) that there are NO cars around.  When I went my fasted speed, there was NO ONE on the road.  Occasionally I’ll get in some little street races, in which case I kind of abandon those rules, but only twice have I gone over 100 for those… I think.

An important note for this post would be to know the limits of you and your car.  If your car cannot handle going at very high speeds, do not attempt to drive at very high speeds.  If you can’t control your car at very high speeds, do not attempt to drive at very high speeds.  Figure out all your limits in a safe environment, like an autocross, before hand.  Do not try to discover them out on public roads.  You’re giving all quick drivers a bad name by going faster than you can go, and you’re doing yourself a disservice by not knowing the capabilities of your car.  Using good judgement requires full knowledge of the situation.  Once you have that knowledge, use it appropriately.

Now, for everyone that is not comfortable with speed and prefers to lollygag about on the road, there are easy things you can do to avoid the speed demons from getting super pissed at you:

1.) Drive at least 5mph over the speed limit.  I’ve only heard of one instance where someone got pulled over going 5 over.  I have driven 5mph over the speed limit past a cop and did not get pulled over.  I was actually tailgated by a cop recently, but we won’t go there.  The only time when this rule does not apply is if you’re driving a gigantic monstrosity of a vehicle that has a difficult time going anywhere.  You may also be exempt from this rule if you have an old car that’s on its last tank in life and is spewing black smoke of death.  In which case, only drive your car to your nearest dealership or shop to get this problem fixed or adopt a new vehicle.  This is also the time to mention the all important use of hazard lights.  If you are going significantly under the speed limit (we’ll say 10mph under, though the actual law for this in each state may vary), turn your hazard lights on.  This will alert drivers coming up behind you that you are going super slow and allow them enough time to maneuver around you.

2.) Drive in the appropriate lane.  If you have not read the post on proper lane assignments, make time to do that.  If you are going 65mph in a 65mph zone, and you’re in the far left lane, get out of it.  You are not going fast.

3.) Don’t try to regulate other people’s speed.  I’ve been a victim of this thinking as well.  It’s okay.  You’re not alone.  Sometimes I’ll be going about 10-15 over and someone will be all up on my butt.  I have been guilty of thinking “I am going fast enough, thank you.”  This is not the way to think in these situations, and I do actually correct myself.  I will speed up just enough to get out of their way.  This is what I would want someone to do if I were the car behind me*.

4.) When traveling up or down steep inclines and pull-outs are provided, USE THEM!!!  It is greatly appreciated.

*The Golden Rule, treat others how you want to be treated, or the better rule—don’t treat others the way you don’t want to be treated—should be the first lesson taught to new drivers.  If you want people to let you onto the highway when you merge, let others onto the highway when you merge.  If you want people to signal, then you should always signal.  If you want people to stop running red lights, don’t run red lights yourself.  Road karma is rough.  I would know.  But driving is like life—there are complete dicks, people slow to catch on, people with too much power for their own good (horsepower in this sense… or cops).  Just be considerate.  If someone wants to go faster than you, get out of their way.