Daily WTF: Southerners’ Response to Winter Weather Driving

This past week winter has hit Lexington with a vengeance, netting us below-freezing daytime temperatures, a few inches of snow, and, quite soon, a veritable Snow-Pocalypse. But as I sat in my car for a full hour this week trying to drive the seven miles into work, I had to come to one inescapable conclusion: southerners don’t know how to drive in winter weather.

Let me set the scene for you. It’s 8am. About three hours ago, it started snowing, a light, powdery snow that kept up at a steady rate. There was salt on the roads and sidewalks, but nothing had been plowed yet, and there were maybe two inches of snow on the ground. And yet, on what passes for a highway in this town, we were lucky to reach 10 mph. Thus the hour drive.

There was no reason to drive so slowly. There were only two accidents in the entire city, both non-injury, and the roads were perfectly passable. If you reduced your speed around turns and expanded your following distance, you would have been perfectly safe going 30 or 40 mph. Visibility was good and ice was low. We were all perfectly safe.

This overly cautious nature in the winter is something I’ve noticed in other southern states too, most notably Texas and Tennessee. If Texas even sees the glint of ice on the ground, school is cancelled and everyone loses their minds. Seventy mph speed limits suddenly become 10 mph, people stock up on food, and, if you can, you refuse to leave the house.

So let me educate my fellow southerners: it is okay to drive normally in the winter. Ask someone from Chicago, Minnesota, or Michigan, and they will tell you about driving in sub-zero temperatures on top of six inches of packed ice and going 25 mph around a curve. Just because precipitation hits the ground and sticks is no reason to lose your nerve. Have some southern pride.

But I understand that it can be nerve-wracking. I too was once a neophyte in the ways of winter weather driving. So here is a short list of things you should do.

  1. Reduce your speed, especially around turns. If you’re on a straightaway, you’re pretty safe. Most fishtails and spinouts happen on turns, especially tight ones. So, if you’re turning, reduce your speed way, way down.
  2. Expand your following distance. This is standard procedure when it’s raining. Apply it here. Avoid tailgating and put at least a car length between you and the next car when you come to a stop. This will ensure that if someone bumps you, you don’t keep the chain going.
  3. Pump your breaks when you stop. If you slam them, they will lock and you will skid. So pump them.
  4. Clear your windows of snow and ice before driving. I understand that you’re running late for work and probably didn’t buy a $2 ice scraper, but it is really, really important to clear your windows. Otherwise, you can’t see. Please don’t tell me you need more explanation than that.
  5. Pay attention to the road. Ice and snow is not the time to fiddle with your heater or radio or check your bag for lip balm. Conditions are slick so you can’t instantly correct when something goes wrong.
  6. If visibility is low, use your hazards and get off the road. Stay home. Call in sick. Pull over to the side of the road. Put on your hazards. Don’t just stop in the middle of the road. That’s dangerous for everyone.

And that’s it. So go, go to work, go to school, go to the store with confidence. It’s just frozen water. You’ll be fine.

* Picture by Dave Granlund; can be found at http://www.davegranlund.com/cartoons/2013/12/02/first-snowflake/

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