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Jon de Vos: Shiny side up, greasy side down

Jon de Vos
Friday Report

Every year about this time, I take this opportunity to heartily welcome newcomers to Grand County, then I immediately drop the nice-guy charade and tell them how to drive.

The best way to drive in bad weather is not to drive at all.

Maybe that sounds like suspect advice, but, in fact, always ask yourself, “Is this trip necessary?”

If a harrowing drive on icy roads can be avoided, delayed, combined or delegated to somebody else going the same direction, you would be wise to do so.

Never drive with your vision obstructed.

Clear the ice with a scraper that should be attached to your coat with a third dummy string. Clear every window, mirror, headlight, turn signal and brake light. See. Be seen. Long idling is wasteful and hard on your engine. Start your car, give it fifteen seconds to pump some oil to the cylinder heads and then start on your journey. If it’s so cold that your car’s lubricants have turned to Chapstick, drive slowly for the first few miles until your vehicle has reached operating temperatures.

Always carry the proper insurance card and up-to-date registration in the glove box.

Readily producing the proper paperwork could avoid having an uncomfortably long road-side chat with Officer Friendly as your boss and your wife drive by, hopefully not in the same car.

Slow down. In bad conditions such as iced-over roads, high winds, poor visibility, heavy snow, or any combination such as we often experience, slow down. How much? It varies, but in bad conditions, knock a third to a half off the posted limits and don’t be afraid to go much slower than that. If cars start lining up behind you, find the next right turn where it’s safe to do so, signal well in advance and get out of their way. If you don’t feel safe, you probably aren’t, but you won’t hurt a doggone thing by slowing down.

Why slow down? Simply because it will take you longer to stop, just like it will take that idiot in the other car longer to stop. On dry pavement it takes about 75 feet to stop from 30 mph. On ice it can take over 400 feet.

Never use cruise control on ice. That’s just dumb. Be careful on bridges and overpasses, they always freeze before the rest of the road. The Tabernash overpass is a perfect example of a very dangerous bridge if it’s iced up and you approach it too quickly. Keep your lights on during storms. Don’t pass snow plows, they can’t see you and you can’t see around them. Don’t do it. Be patient. Always, always, wear seatbelts and no cell phone TV ” no, not even Judge Judy, isn’t she a hoot? Where was I? Oh yeah, keep your wits about you.

Iced windshields can be avoided or greatly reduced, by shutting off the heat in the car. Put a binky or a coat on your lap, roll down the window of the car for a few seconds to cool down the interior, turn the heat all the way off and turn the direction of the heater to the floor. When the windshield cools down, snow won’t stick to it. You’ll be cold but you’ll be able to see. This trick doesn’t work as well at very slow speeds and in warm (relatively) conditions.

Tailgating. This is likely the most dangerous and dumb thing a driver can do under any circumstance. On dry pavement, a rule of thumb is to leave 3 feet for every mph. In other words if you’re going 25 mph, you should be 75 feet behind the car in front of you, that’s about four car lengths.

You say, “Nobody ever does that.” What you should say is that, “Nobody who has ever done that, has rear-ended a car in front of them.” On ice it’s much more important and you should double that distance. At 25 mph you should be 150 feet, uh, that’s half a football field for Bronco fans, behind the car in front of you. And remember, while keeping safe distances, you should be watching the car that’s in front of the car that’s in front of you. What they see or do will affect you in a very few seconds.

Know the vehicle you’re driving. ABS brakes are a tremendous safety advance and lots of people don’t use them properly. ABS is an acronym for Anti-lock Braking System. If you need to stop on ice, and the car you’re driving is ABS equipped, don’t be timid. Stomp on the brake and steer out of danger. That’s what ABS does, it allows you to brake as quickly as possible and steer at the same time. Do not look at the obstacle you’re trying to avoid, look where you want to go. Your car will follow. Don’t know if the car has ABS? Turn on the key and look for ABS among the idiot lights.

If you have to stop in a vehicle without ABS, apply increasing pressure on the brake until the wheels lock, then back off and do it over again. Remember, when braking a non-ABS vehicle, you lose steering control when your wheels are locked up. Know the vehicle you’re driving.

If you get stuck, turn on your hazard lights and do not spin your wheels. It won’t help.

You’ll only dig deeper into the ice, making things worse. A light touch on the gas and a slow steady acceleration, rocking back and forth in reverse and forward, is the best technique. Sometimes, if you’re stuck, you’re stuck. Have a shovel and sand in your vehicle at all times. If you have to dig your vehicle out of a ditch, use some restraint and don’t overdo it. Use your phone to call somebody. If none of that works, oh yeah, walk. You better have some outside gear with you at all times. Use the back of your car for storing that sweater Aunt Emma brought you from her trip to Ireland that was knit from bits and pieces of whole sheep.

If you start to skid on mountain roads the best technique is to tuck your head between you legs and kiss you’re a … well, experts say you should turn into the skid. Trouble is that you’ve usually run out of room before meeting Mr. Precipice on the right or Mr. Exxon on the left. So what I say to you, is that if you skid, you were going to fast for the conditions and you’re gonna pay a price. How lucky do you feel?

Drive safely. The life you save could be mine.


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