Winter driving, a slippery slope

Michael Olson’s post in this space yesterday got me to thinking about the hazards of Interstate Hwy. 35 in bad weather. I make the drive to Duluth fairly often, and even a little bit of freezy slush seems to be enough to send cars into the ditch. There’s an elevated curve near Barnum, for example, that’s scary on a warm dry day.

Three Saturdays ago I was heading south out of Duluth just as the snow started up. Cars were in the ditch left and right. One poor soul had gone off the road, into the ditch and up the bank, coming to rest upside down among the trees. A drive that normally takes me under two and a half hours lasted more than five.

My friend Wayne Lee teaches driving skills for a car club, and he offers this advice:

“No. 1, don’t stop driving. If you’re out of control and going into the ditch, then drive into the ditch. Keep control of your car. No. 2, don’t overreact. Remain calm and keep driving.

“Another thing people don’t realize is there’s more than one pedal. There’s an accelerator. I can choose to drive out of the ditch by putting the gas on.”

Another time, Wayne told me that many accidents happen because drivers who can’t stop forget that they have the option to steer. It’s better, he said, to cross a line painted on the pavement than to just plow into the car ahead of you. That particular advice, simple as it sounds, saved me on that recent Saturday.

Here’s a video to get us thinking about our winter driving skills. Note: Don’t attempt to videotape other cars while driving.

  • this is NOT lucy

    I am kinda wondering why you didn’t slow down after driving by three other cars that went off the road?

    I am guessing that this was yet another skit performed by mPR?

    Well done then.

    Hey about that steering thing?…I’ll remember that while I am driving down the hill to the entry to Afton Alps while they are blowing mist onto the existing narrow road that has been narrow for over 30 years which now also has a metal safety barrier on one side that someone else already has plowed over.

    I guess its the thought that counts huh?

  • John P II

    But I have AWD, traction control, anti-lock brakes and anti-skid control. Do I still have to slow down?

  • jon

    slowing down is a great idea NOT Lucy, just make sure you do it right…

    often 3 cars will all go into the ditch at the same time because the first one wipes out, the second and third both hit their brakes, and put them selves into a slide and they too wipe out. Best course of action is to keep doing what you are doing it’s kept you on the road this long… Slowly adjust your speed by backing off the gas, the brake pedal might seem like a great way to slow down, but it’s also a good way to start sliding.

    No matter how many drive wheels you have, odds are your car still has the same 4 wheel brakes that the car in the ditch has (obvious exception for cars with more then 4 wheels)

  • BenCh

    The most important thing I told my wife when she moved here and thus had to drive in the snow, is to always brake with your gas. What that means, in my own little saying, is that always go slow enough to where if you are losing control you can apply some gas/acceleration. Braking will make your car continue in the same direction, so hitting a little gas will pull your car the way you have the wheel turned.

    Living in Duluth now I have seen a few cars in ditches, but nothing like some of the storms I saw while going to school in Montana. The worst for cars in ditches is the stretch of I-94 from Alexandria to Fargo. Oddly during one storm, the only ‘cars’ I saw in ditches were SUVs and a couple pick-ups.

  • Kirk

    Another way to grab some extra control is to downshift. Staying out of overdrive or a high gear gives you far more flexibility in that you don’t have to hit your brakes to slow down–which is what causes most people to lose control of their car.

    Now if we could just get rid of automatic transmissions…