Rules of Winter Driving

The summer of my fifteenth year, I enrolled in driver’s education classes taught by various teachers in the Grand Forks School District who either wanted a little extra cash or had a bona fide death wish. The course was broken down into three parts: classroom, simulators and road practice.

The classroom section featured ongoing recitation of the North Dakota Department of Transportation handbook as well as the movies. Oh, God…the movies! I don’t know what movies they’re showing these days, now that our society is attempting to become a more kind and gentle place (as related to children, of which teens remain included), but back in the day, the movies were the driver’s ed equivalent of the “scared straight” programs for misguided youth.*

The film would begin rolling and suddenly, your optic nerves were assaulted with a quick-spreading red blob coursing across the frame. The title would then appear in a bold, unhappy font: “BLOOD ON THE HIGHWAY.” In an attempt to make these films relateable to their target audience (angsty teens who were sick of being driven to the roller rink by their parents), they used “situations” that we were allegedly supposed to relate to. A group of people our age load into Dad’s Buick for an evening of carousing out on the interstate (because we did that a lot…?). They immediately turn the AM radio to the best of Buddy Holly (insert symbolism here) and they are loud and boisterous. The driver, the ever-responsible “Bill” with his appropriate short haircut and cardigan sweater, informs the group that he must pay attention to the road, as driving is a great responsibility.

Party boy “Seth” proceeds to call “Bill” a square and turns up the radio and begins again his frivolity, joined by the two bee-hived girls in the backseat with their matching sweater sets. Finally, because of all this peer pressure, “Bill” decides to let it go and begins to enjoy himself, laughing and joking with his friends and bopping mindlessly along to the music wafting from the crackly speakers. Then, as “Bill” is turned around to make eye-flirty with the bee-hived minx in the backseat named “Paula,” a gigantic semi-truck comes barreling down the highway, his horns and lights blaring. “Bill” is oblivious, however, because “Paula” really is quite fetching.

“Seth” suddenly yells at “Bill” to look out!

“Paula” screams!

The next thing you know, we are panned to the sight of a Sheriff informing the parents of the terrible tragedy.

You’d think that would have chilled our 15-year-old selves to the bone. You would, however, be wrong.

The next section was the simulators. These were little pod-like fake cars that had the requisite components of an actual car. Most of the simulators had automatic transmissions, but there were two that had manual. If you were the lucky two to get the manuals, you really were in for a frustrating hour. One of the manual cars was Car #8. I was unfortunate enough to get Car #8 in our first bout with the simulators. No one in my family had a stick shift when I was growing up, so the whole thing was very daunting and confusing.

We sat in our little pod cars and fake drove down the street that was rolling on the screen in front of us.

“Car #8, you need to put the car in gear!” shouted the – by winter, soft-spoken history teacher – and by summer, drill sergeant of pod cars.

“I’M TRYING!” I would yell from my stalled out little pod.

Every time I would stall or fail to shift, I (and everyone else in the room) would be verbally assaulted with angry admonitions from drill sergeant. “CAR NUMBER EIGHT, WHAT IS YOUR MALFUNCTION??” Uhh, presumably the inability to drive a POD CAR WITH A STICK SHIFT?

Finally, we got to the actual driving. We stood anxiously in the parking lot awaiting our assignment to one of the Oldsmobile Ciaras that had been graciously lent to the school system by one of the local dealerships. I won’t bore you with the details, but my instructor (by winter, a high school counselor) had to make copious use of his “Oh shit” brake on the passenger side and a squirrel perished.

For all of the teaching they did with regard to rules of the road and how to not pick off wildlife with our automobiles, they didn’t even touch on the important stuff. What is the important stuff? Winter driving, of course. Yes, they did give us the appropriate caveats like, “turn into the swerve” and “pump your brakes” (back when this was the thing to do), but they didn’t really get into the etiquette of it all.

Therefore, allow me to proffer some etiquette rules I’ve learned over the course of my years driving on the snow and ice.

  1. Realize that unless is you live in a very homogeneous part of the country (read: Grand Forks, ND), there will be quite a few people on the road with you who are just not up to speed on the ways of ice and snow driving. It really is a skill learned over time, so it would be wise to bear that in mind when you find yourself in the same road company as the man in the Ford Taurus with Arizona license plates with his hands firmly clenched at the 10 and 2 o’ clock positions and his face smashed up against the windshield (while, I presume, simultaneously crapping his pants). Did I mention he’s going approximately 7 mph in a 45 mph zone? He’s completely freaked out by the weather conditions around him. Riding his tail and honking furiously at him isn’t going to cause an immediate proficiency in his winter driving skill. In fact, more than likely, he’s going to careen (very slowly, of course) into a light pole or something and that will just slow you down even more.
  2. If you happen to park outside and do not have the luxury of a garage and it snows, please be considerate enough to brush the whole car off, rather than a 6 inch window on your windshield from which to commandeer your vehicle through heavy rush hour traffic. This might be my biggest annoyance in the winter, those who leave 2 foot snow drifts on the roofs of their cars. Invariably, I am going to get behind one of these jackasses and despite the fact that it will be sunny and clear everywhere else in town, it will be a re-creation of the perfect storm (with snow) in my immediate area, due to the snow blowing off the roof of some idiot’s car directly in front of me. My vision will be obscured, my windshield wipers will get a substantial workout, not only from the snow coming at me from above, but also the dirty slop being kicked up by the tires in front of me. It’s just not good. Yeah, brushing snow is annoying, but it really doesn’t take that long and it REALLY makes the cars that get behind you in traffic much more grateful for your efforts.
  3. If you are of the folks who have all wheel drive and can stop on a dime, don’t presume that the rest of us will be able to follow suit. By the way, all wheel drive or four wheel drive doesn’t, despite the promises, make you invincible. It helps put you on the path to invincibility, but it doesn’t take you all the way there. Plus, as previously stated, many of us behind you are anything but invincible and when you’re the the only thing in our path when you stop abruptly on ice, you’re the only thing that’s going to get hit.
  4. This one shouldn’t even need to be stated, but sadly after last winter’s storm, it has to be. If you opt to go out on the road, despite having been warned for upwards of a week that there will be a massive snowstorm that will drop anywhere from 15-22 inches in a very short period of time, have a freaking contingency plan. First, stay home. But if you just. can’t. help. yourself…then don’t get in your 1984 Ford Escort with the bald tires and expect to complete your journey with any degree of success. When you ultimately figure out that you’re beyond screwed, it is not the wisest idea to just simply get out of the car and walk away, unless you have located the car in a place where cars are normally able to be parked. To wit: the passing lane on a 6 lane interstate is NOT a place where cars are normally parked.

With winter well upon us in many areas of the country, I think the rules are important and should be followed. But Sande, you’re thinking, who are you to claim to be the arbiter of driving etiquette? Haven’t you driven yourself into more than one ditch? Slid into more than one car? Once used your Algebra II book as a traction device behind the back tire of your Dodge Aspen and then proceeded to back into one of your classmates in the school parking lot? And, while we’re on the subject of the Dodge Aspen, weren’t YOU the one who used a diet Coke can to “scrape” your windshield with the previously scoffed at 6 inch window of unobstructed vision? Yes, this is all true, but I have learned from my experience and am now sharing that knowledge with you!

Because I care, dammit! (or perhaps, I don’t care and am just lacking anything better to write about)


* These programs, according to my Google-fu, are still ongoing, only now they have more delicate names like, Juvenile Awareness Program. Yeah, soften THAT up. That will help.

Published in: on December 29, 2007 at 10:50 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. You consistently crack me the hell up. 🙂

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