Sunday, February 14, 2010

Joe's Guide For Driving In Winter Weather For Southern Drivers

Growing up on the South Side of Lake Michigan in da Region, I am no stranger to driving in snow. It's like riding a bike, or playing ping pong, or doing a somersault, or playing a drum set - once you learn how to do it, it's something you don't forget how to do.

I drove from Atlanta to Charleston Saturday morning, after the largest snow storm in decades blanketed most of the Peach and Palmetto states in 3 to 8 inches (the photo to the right is of my buddy Ryan's deck, east of Stone Mountain behind his new homestead, taken Saturday morning).

He took it while I was talking to him on my cell phone, held in my left hand, and driving 60 mph on twisty 2 lane secondary roads, through rural Georgia parallel to I-85 (which was blocked for MILES due to multiple car accidents), and holding my Garmin Numi in my right hand, while steering with my left elbow & forearm, passing vehicle after vehicle that was in a ditch, off the side of the road, spun out - one even had a stop sign wrapped around it's bumper and hood and had jumped a curb, no where near an intersection!

So after I spoke to Ryan, I picked up my pen and paper Daytimer (omnipresent in my front shirt pocket on business trips) and jotted down a few notes. All the while, driving safely, carefully, without any fear or angst or missteps or execution errors. These are the notes I wrote down while driving, as thoughts occurred to me like "this is NOT that hard" and "how scared does one have to be to drive 30 mph with 4 way flashers blinking on dry pavement??"

Joe's Guide For Driving In Winter Weather For Southern Drivers
1) Stay home. Don't go out. Watch DVR's of last year NASCAR races, or Rastlin, or MMA fighting, or college football, or the Outdoor channel (that's a big fish, that's a purdy fish). Don't try to drive, you will only hurt yourself and others.

2) Really, stay home. I speak from experience. And by "experience" I mean, I've driven in snow and ice in IN, IL, OH, MI, TN, KY, NC, SC, GA. VA, MD, Wash DC, PA, NY, NH, VT, Austria, and Suisse, and have never had an accident in snow and ice, because I know what I am doing, and I am not afraid or stupid or reactionary.

3) What trip do you have that is so essential, that you cannot wait another 24 or 48 hours to make that trip? It's the South, your snow will melt. Your ice will melt. Soon the roads will be safe. Seriously, stay home.

4) Ok, so you've ignored recommendation 1 through 3. Please, when you drive for the first time in snow or on ice, go the speed limit, or within 10 mph of it. When you are on a federal interstate highway, designed to be driven at 75mph and you're doing 30, gripping your steering wheel like it's a mid Atlantic life preserver, you're creating a traffic hazard for the rest of us.

5) When trying to climb a hill that has some ice on it, remember that the coefficient of static friction is nearly ALWAYS higher than the coefficient of dynamic friction. 'What does that mean?' you might ask... well... when your pickup truck is approaching Powers Ferry as it climbs Windy Hill Road at a 5% incline, flooring it and spinning your rear wheels isn't going to get you up the hill. It is going to destroy your differential, and create a black streak on the road, and damage your engine as you rev above 6500 rpm. And it will provide amusement for people like me, who look down from our hotel rooms at the red neck in his pick up truck who can't climb a slight hill with a little ice. If you are fool-hardy enough to drive a pickup truck or rear wheel drive vehicle on ice, put sand bags or other weights in the truck's bed over the rear axle. This will provide more downward force - gravity always works in the same direction when on Earth, but gravity is a theory like evolution which many Southerners have rejected, so what do I know. Downward force, times the coefficient of friction, will dictate how much applied forward motion you will accomplish. Increasing wheel RPM, well, that Does Not increase downward force, it just hurts your drive train and makes you look really stupid. Use 200 to 500 lbs of wet sand in the sand bags.

5) your accelerator (known to Americans as "gas pedal") is typically an analog device. If you have a vehicle with advanced technology where the electronics are simulating an analog to digital response curve (unless it is a Toyota maybe), it's still not an 'ALL THE WAY UP or DOWN' device. It's a variable response input device. Stomping on your accelerator at a stop light to begin to move, on ice, makes you look really stupid, provides no forward motion, and might even make you drift sideways. Apply your foot gently to the gas, don't stomp it. There's never an appropriate time to stomp on your accelerator on ice, unless you are trying to do a trick in an empty parking lot.

6) your brake pedal is also an analog input device. Apply your foot gently to the brake, do not stomp it. "Stomping" is for right before impact when you have anti-lock brakes, and if they are functioning properly, the pedal will push back at your foot.

6) Slush is good. Slush is your friend. Do not be afraid of driving through a little slush. GA got 3 to 8 inches of snow. That's not enough slush to bury a car to it's axles (as I did to my father's Chevy Van in the Hammond IN FOP Parking Lot in High School). If you put "dubs" on your vehicle, see rules 1, 2, and 3 above.

7) Shade + (Ambient Temp < 32F) + previous night snow = Frozen Patch. Be prepared for it. It's not magic, it's not mystical - like the sensor under the pavement that makes the light change colors when your car waits on it. The pavement in the shade, when the temp is below freezing (32F for Americans, 0 Celsius for the rest of the world, but the Canadians in North America don't have this issue, they understand) will have a patch of ice on it, or some un-melted snow... it will be slightly more slippery. Don't jamb your brakes on it. Don't floor it. Just gently glide over that patch. Unless you are in a dense pine forest, the shade will be intermittent in the South, and you'll get to sun warmed pavement soon enough.

8) If you're still determined to drive in the southern snow without experience, clues, or skill, take off your "W" bumper sticker, and your "McCain / Palin" stickers, and your "NObama" stickers before you head out. When you wreck, and "yankees" drive past you, they won't be able to say "well, of course" - and I am not a "yankee", I don't like the yankees. I like the Cubs, and yes, the Cubs are terrible, but my car has never been broken into in Wrigleyville, and both Sox games I went to, it was broken into. I'm not a "yankee", nor a "damn yankee", I'm from the Midwest, thank you.

9) If you are still going out in the snow, take off your racing slicks, or your neglected bald tires, and put on some good all weather tires. I know you don't have snow chains. You don't need them. You're not going to be driving on completely snow covered roads, or severe inclines, like in the Sierra Nevadas. Most of the pavement you're going to be on will be clear and dry and will tear up chains. Driving on bald tires will decrease your coefficient of friction (see # 5 above).

10) so you're still attempting to drive in the southern snow without experience or clues, AND you're trying to talk on your cell phone? DON'T!!! You're barely capable of driving on DRY pavement with a cell phone in hand. Add variable friction surfaces to that and you are guaranteed an accident. Put Down The Cell Phone. Concentrate on items 1 through 9 above.

Now, I feel better. =)


  1. you forgot to talk about steering!

  2. Nothing about steering should be sudden in Southern Snow or Slush or Ice. Everything about steer, as with braking, and accelerating, should be done in moderation. Make a sudden turn, and you will spin or slide. Try to over-compensate, and without built in Northern Driving technique reflexes, you will wind up in a ditch, in the opposing lane, off the road, etc.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.