Thursday, January 15, 2009

winter driving

The lovely local conditions in my area this past week reminded me of this. When you’re working in the field, chances are you’re going to get caught in a snowstorm at some point, or you’re going to be doing some level of off-roading in poor conditions to get to a site. So here’s the short geologist’s guide to driving on slippery roads (or non-roads).

1. Attempt to get a car that drives well in bad conditions. This may be impossible. The rental company may be all out of vehicles that are good in the snow, or you may be forced to drive cargo vans or pickup trucks (or horrors, box trucks) because of your equipment. Or you may have terrible company vehicles.

2. Practice. If a vehicle is new to you, take it out to a bare stretch of parking lot before loading it up with stuff, if possible, and just do a couple stops and turns. Does it slide easily? If so, how does it feel before it breaks traction? How long does it take to come to a stop at a reasonable speed?

3. No sudden starts or stops. If you start to slide/can’t start, ease up on whatever pedal you’re pressing. This means you have to pay attention to what you’re doing so you have plenty of time to react. You’re going to need it.

4. Acceleration = velocity and turning (sorry, I’m not a physicist, but you know what I mean). Try to avoid changing your speed and direction at the same time. If you see a curve ahead, slow down before you get to it.

5. Extension of # 3: don’t stop if you can help it. You stop, you lose momentum. Much better to cruise along slowly. I’ve parked in many a spot where I’ve had to then shovel/push myself out when I’ve tried to leave. Also, there is such a thing as going too slow, especially uphill. If you’re doing under 10 mph, you’re more liable to grind to a halt, get stuck, and become a roadblock. This leads to…

6. Never stop on an uphill grade. Really. If you’re coming up to a hill, it’s better to wait at the bottom of the hill for everyone ahead of you to clear it (keep an eye to who’s struggling where). If someone ahead of you gets stuck, they become a roadblock and then it’s a big mess because you’ll have to leave the tire marks (relatively clear) and try and maneuver around them. I’ve seen plenty of stoplights perched right at the top of steep grades because of bridges. If this is the case, wait at the bottom of the hill, get some momentum, and then go.

7. Patience! We all have our own comfort zones. Cars have varying degrees of drivability in bad conditions. If you accept that other drivers may not be doing what you’d like them to do, and compensate, you’re less likely to lose control yourself.

8. Don’t let the gas gauge get too low. Especially on a highway. If conditions become impassable, put the car as far off the road as you can (I’d put her sideways into a snowbank so she’s as far off the road as possible and her ass isn’t sticking out, but that’s just me), put on the hazards, and go into winter survival mode. Make sure the tailpipe’s uncovered, crack a window, run the engine every 15 minutes so it’s not frigid, hop out to clear it off so that you can be seen, and hang on. With a decent tank of gas, you can go on safely like this for hours.

Happy driving!

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