This weekend Jon and I got into a bad accident in his SUV (note: the picture is NOT our accident. Ours really doesn’t look this bad). Fortunately and miraculously, everyone involved walked away unharmed. The Northeast got its first snowfall of the season and with it froze black ice on the I-95. We slipped, swerved and hit a Honda Civic coming up the on-ramp. While waiting for the cops to arrive, another five or so cars slipped on the same patch of ice and joined our growing pile of crunched-up cars on the side of the road.
My friend remarked that I seemed remarkably calm and unshaken after this event. I told her, while the car was swerving and Jon went plowing off the road, over the grassy patch and into the on-ramp, with absolutely no idea where we were headed, all I knew was that we had no other option than to walk away unharmed. And considering my stubbornness, which is extreme, I would like to think I had extended some great powers that left us with nothing more than a bruise on my knee and a slightly sore back the next day (but I’m really not a believer of supernatural forces). So why freak out over what might have been (a total disaster) when it wasn’t? Yes, we could have hit a semi-truck, or the Civic could have hit us a few seconds earlier in the driver’s side, or we could have hit the Civic a few seconds later in the passenger side. But, we didn’t.
However, I have to count myself lucky in this case: it was one of the first few times I actually put on my seat belt in the back seat. I haven’t sat in the back seat very often and I haven’t buckled it since I was 12 years old or so. I always buckle in the front, but something about the snowy day made me buckle in, and I am more than relieved that I did. I am pretty sure I would have been tossed straight out the window if I hadn’t.
1. Bridges do actually freeze. I never knew what that meant, but now I do. Jon vows to slow down during rain and snow and winter when crossing overpasses and brides. I hope other drivers do, too.
2. Wear your seatbelt, always.
3. If the weather is bad out, just don’t try to go anywhere.
4. Drive slower, in the right lane, and take as long as you need to get somewhere.
Some helpful tips I found from the Michigan State Police web site. If you’re going to find snow, Michigan is a good place.
“If you find yourself beginning to slide on snow or ice, DON’T PANIC. Take your foot off the gas and DO NOT hit the brakes. Steer the front of your vehicle into the skid (the same direction you are sliding). This technique is used in both front- and rear-wheel-drive vehicles. If you must use the brakes, do not allow them to lock up; gently pump the brake pedal, unless your car is equipped with anti-lock brakes. If your car has anti-lock brakes, use a firm, steady pressure WITHOUT pumping. The grinding noise you hear and the surging you feel in the pedal is normal and indicates the brakes are working properly, allowing you to continue to steer and control the vehicle. And for you 4-wheel-drive enthusiasts, always remember that a 4-wheel-drive vehicle provides additional traction that is useful for going through deep snow, but it does not stop any faster.”
Other winter safety that are practical and common-sensed, but not always practiced:
5. Don’t drive after drinking – even if you’re not drunk, you’re impaired. Even if you’re not impaired, you could get sleepy. Sleepy driver = bad driver.
6. Intersections tend to be more frozen from exhaust moisture in stopped cars that quickly freezes on the pavement after cars leave. Approach slowly.
7. Keep an emergency kit in the car. It should include flares, flashlight with working batteries, a shovel, first-aid kit, kitty litter or sand (for traction), blankets, hat, gloves and other items to keep you warm. I really wished I had a hat that night while waiting on the side of the road. (During the few moments when the car was veering off the road, I also kind of wished I had a hat on in case my head went through the glass).
8. Seriously, DON’T TEXT AND DRIVE. It is unbelievable how many people I’ve passed doing this. It’s as bad as TALKING ON THE CELL PHONE WHILE DRIVING. Is it so hard to get a head set? I have a great one that makes me look like I’m a telemarketer in my car. Also, make sure your phone has enough charge in case of emergencies.
9. I like to apply RainX to my windshield in winter. It basically repels all water and dirt, mud, salt, the works which create a mess on your windshield (which you try to clean off every 20 seconds with your wiper fluid, which freezes or runs out). RainX keeps your windshield clean and your visibility clear.
10. While you’re at it, please clear the snow off your car as well. It sucks to have big chunks of snow and ice blowing off the car in front of you onto your windshield.
11. Don’t tailgate, even if it’s 80 and sunny. It’s just obnoxious and not safe for anyone. To get a tailgater off your back, just move over to the next lane. Don’t even bother trying to “teach” them a lesson by putting the brakes on. That just gets it madder and more reckless. If you are a road raging driver, perhaps listening to holiday music on the radio will cheer you up more. Try singing along, like this other guy we saw on the road who rolled down his window to belt out along with Bruce Springsteen that “Santa Claus is coming to town.”
12. Lastly, if you’re in the market for a new car, re-think the fun-ness of the Mini Cooper or a convertible for something safe and practical. Believe me, I love the Mini and I have fun renting convertibles – but I sure am glad I had Jon’s trusty Xterra to shield me that night. (Nothing wrong with his Xterra other than it was starting to get on the junky side of maintenance and the trunk fabric was peeling off and the bumper never stayed on properly. Plus it seemed permanently dirty).
Please pass this along to all your winter drivers, and be safe!