Monday, March 25, 2013

OMG! It's the Snowpocalypse

Look, I get it.

I grew up in Richmond. I know we're all required to run to the grocery store and buy up all the bread, milk and toilet paper at the first mention of the word "snow."

Since I have a lot of teacher friends, I even know that some of us begin gleefully planning for snow days in advance. Or so I read on Facebook.

Just as an aside -- any significant snowfall in Virginia means that a couple of people who would otherwise be alive will be killed in traffic accidents and it's likely that thousands will lose power for a period ranging from 30 minutes to a week.

(My wife would tell you that the power issue is most critical. Because I become a particularly bad- tempered troll when the power is out.)

Some people's jobs get tougher when it snows. Mine does, but I'm really think of VDOT workers, police and fire department personnel and folks who work  for the electric company. I guess my job has taken a new level of getting worse when it snows now that we are supposed to post video to our website. I guess I'll have to go out and stand in the snow so people will believe me that it's snowing, the way television reporters do.

Seems like an awful high price for people who already get two months a year off to get an extra vacation day.

But I digress, my topic wasn't the childish fascination that teachers have for snow. No, what I can here to talk about today was driving. And how people in Virginia can't do it if it snows.

I understand that it's unfamiliar. It doesn't snow here a lot. But it's really simple to improve safety on our roads during bad weather.

First don't drive if you don't have to.

But if you have to, try to refrain from two really bad habits that Virginia drivers have in all seasons, but which are particularly dangerous in the snow.

First, stop following people so closely. The difference between allowing correct spacing between your car and the vehicle in front of you and running 10 feet off that guy's bumper -- no matter what the speed limit --  has little impact on your time of arrival at your destination. It can be measured in seconds. However the time you'll lose if that guy should have to slam on his brakes - of if he does so without reason, see below -- could be much longer. It might be measured in eternity.

In the snow this is even more important. The two times you are most likely to have traction problems in the snow are when you are accelerating and when  you are braking. So you should do both gradually.

And that means increasing following distance. Ideally, in situations where the road surface may be slippery, you should leave enough space that if that driver were to totally lose it and wreck, you could take you foot off the accelerator and coast to a stop short of that vehicle. Other drivers sometime won't let you get that much space, they'll cut in front of you which means they are following the vehicle that was in front of them too closely and  you're now following them to closely.

Do your best and if you do have to brake, do it gradually.

Which brings us to the next bad  habit -- don't ride the brake.

There's a pedal on the floor of your car that is used to control your speed. It's called the accelerator. If you want to go faster you press down, it you want to slow down you put less pressure.

There's another pedal on the floor board. That's the brake. The purpose of the brake pedal is to stop 
your car or to reduce speed very quickly in an emergency.

On the interstate, unless something very wrong is going on in front of you, you should not have your foot on the brake pedal.

People in Virginia love the brake for some reason. I've seen people applying their brakes on I-64 when there wasn't another car between them and the horizon. This is one of those things that I don't understand -- like the reverence for the loser generals on Monument Avenue or the popularity of NASCAR -- despite having lived here most of my life.

I often wonder why those drivers are braking. Some, I think,  are doing it bring their car out of cruise control. You can accomplish the same thing by flipping the cruise control switch on and off without hitting the brakes.

Because when  you hit the brakes that affects everybody behind you.

My Dad, who had a world of good advice that I usually didn't listen to, once gave me a driving tip that should be a required part of every Driver's Ed class in America.

"If you are the cause of another driver having to use his brakes," Dad said. "That's poor diving on your part."

When roads are bad that's all the more reason to keep your foot off the brake, braking is one of things most likely to cause a skid. If you're maintaining proper distance,  you shouldn't need to brake.

 The one factor during bad weather that you don't have much control over is other drivers. I've been in two accidents in winter weather, in both of which I stopped short of a wreck in front of me and the driver behind me slid into my car.

There's not much that  you can do about that. But the less you apply your brakes, the less the guy behind  you will think that he needs to apply his.

The less either of you touch the brake pedal the safer you and everybody else will be.


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