Down East 2013 ©
It's odd, the effect a little snowfall has on even the most seasoned Maine drivers. Something clicks in our brains — or perhaps fails to click — and we dash out onto the public roadways and proceed to do strange and irrational things.
Add to this the well-attested affects of holiday spirit — I'm not just talking about the kind of spirit that comes in bottles — and it's probably safe to anticipate that we're embarking upon a silly season during which the median level of driver sanity will plummet to its annual low.
With this in mind, I thought I'd tick off a few helpful things to bear in mind as the Season of Lights comes roaring at us like a teenager in daddy's SUV.
Place not thy faith in anti-lock braking systems. The very worst thing you can do on winter roads — apart from just driving into a snowbank for the fun of it — is to slam the brakes. The snow tire has not yet been invented that will grip firmly on black ice. When possible, slow your car gradually by down-shifting.
He who tailgates shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. A venial sin in clement seasons, tailgating rises to the level of a mortal sin on the first of December. I keep expecting an announcement from the Vatican to this effect, but apparently they don't get much snow in Rome. So you'll have to take this on the highest secular authority I know, the lady rug-maker up the road, who, along with her husband and three lively boys, was once tailgated for miles on icy roads by a world-famous artist. The artist was driving (or so he apparently thought) a flashy car with tiger claws embedded in the tires and computerized ice-detecting equipment, but the rug-maker was driving an aged Datsun, and I believe I mentioned the three lively boys. Having this crazy person (it can be taken as writ that artists are crazy) three inches from her rear bumper was not helpful to concentration.
Think before you pass. Then don't pass. My son Tristan — seventeen years old and recently licensed to drive — was trying to cope with heavy fog on a winding country road while an impatient driver tried repeatedly to squeeze past him, meanwhile flashing his lights and generally making his presence felt. When the guy finally managed to pass, he discovered that the road was, in fact, impossible to see, and promptly slowed to twelve miles per hour, or roughly the speed Tristan had been driving in the first place. The whole thing was ridiculous, but also dangerous.
Kindly remove the snow from your car roof, please. Otherwise it will blow off and blanket the windshield of the car behind you at the precise moment that a huge semi-truck comes barreling over the hill from the opposite direction.
Do not drive while angry. Even if this means staying home until April, or removing the AM radio from your car. We all know about cell phones and alcohol and bad tires and six teenagers in the back seat, but too little attention is paid to this equally frightful hazard. Anger encourages precisely the wrong response to typical winter driving situations: mashing down on the accelerator, slamming the brakes, laying on the horn, greeting fellow drivers with colorful hand gestures. If you must spend the holidays fuming — and I do not dispute that this is sometimes unavoidable — then do it from the safety of your couch.
Hey, that's a cool iPod. Excuse me while I smash it.
Turn into the skid. It may feel counter-intuitive, but just do it. You can practice in a flat, empty parking lot.
If you feel unnerved, pull over and let the people behind you drive past. Signal your intention to do this, so the hot-footed guy behind you can start slowing down ahead of time. None of us drives very well when we are stressed, and the most stressful place to be is at the head of a column of traffic.
Having said all that, let me add that it is not strictly necessary to drive slowly and timidly just because you can see snow in the field out there. The mere fact of winter does not automatically translate into unsafe road conditions. Maine highway crews are very efficient, and most of the time driving conditions are pretty good. If you are a very anxious driver who becomes nervous at the sight of snow, then you may be better off copping a ride with someone else. Or staying at home with your angry friend (see above) and ordering a pizza.
Have a safe and skid-free holiday.