Defense Contract Management Agency
Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems
Fort Worth, Texas
Several years ago I was selected to attend the Air Force’s Weapons and Safety Management course as part of my career development program. The course was about two months long, so I opted to drive to the training site in Denver, Colorado, instead of taking a commercial flight. After all, I figured I’d need some ground transportation when I got there. So I packed my recently restored Chevy Nova and left on a Friday afternoon to begin my journey.
It was fall and the drive to Colorado was enjoyable as I saw the trees turning beautiful shades of gold, brown and red. As luck would have it, winter came early to Colorado, bringing with it the first of many snowstorms. We didn’t get a lot of snow where I’d lived in west Texas and, when it did fall, the highways, roads and schools all closed. Because of that, I didn’t know how to handle driving in the snow.
During my last weekend in Colorado, a blizzard dumped about two feet of fresh snow, covering the landscape, highways and roads. I took my final test and got on Interstate 25 about 10 a.m., driving slowly until I reached the south side of Colorado Springs. I remember the sky was absolutely clear and blue and, beneath it, stretched endless miles of snow and ice. I drove through Colorado’s southern border and turned off I-25 at Raton, New Mexico, heading southeast on U.S. Route 87 toward Amarillo, Texas.
As I drove, I caught up with the blizzard that had gone through Denver. It was sunset and the temperature was rapidly falling. I was 30 miles north of Amarillo when my lack of experience caught up with me. As I attempted to cross a bridge, my car began sliding and trying to swap ends. I struggled to regain control by steering into the slides but found myself a passenger in an out-of-control vehicle spinning down the highway. As I spun, the “Welcome to Amarillo” sign flashed past my windshield several time before I finally stopped, facing backward. At that moment, happiness was not seeing that welcome sign in my rearview mirror!
Two local ranchers stopped to see if I was all right and informed me I’d hit a patch of black ice on the bridge. When they said black ice, I thought they were kidding. After all, everybody knows ice is frosty white or clear, right? Wrong! I’d just learned a lesson about driving in winter weather and was fortunate I was able to walk away.
I found a hotel and stopped for the night. When I got up the next day, the sky was clear and I made it home without any further problems. Looking back, I realize I could have prevented the incident. Had I checked the weather and waited another day before leaving Denver, I would have missed the storm as it passed through the Texas panhandle. I simply did a poor job of risk management. I didn’t think about what could happen (identify hazards). My failure to assess the risks, coupled with not having experience driving on icy roads, could have cost me my life.
Fortunately, this was a close call — one of those opportunities to learn without paying a heavy price in the process. The lesson from this is simple: Consider all the hazards — including those you may face further down the road during your trip — when assessing risks. You may save yourself from running into something you won’t like.Surviving Black Ice
CHARLES D. BETONEY II
U.S. Army Garrison, Carlisle Barracks
Black ice can be a serious driving hazard when the temperature dips below freezing. Black ice forms when snow, water or other types of condensation melt onto the roadway and refreeze. It is called black ice because it is difficult to see and can blend in with the road color. It is most common on bridges, overpasses and in shaded sections of the road where it can remain frozen when other parts of the road have thawed out. You need to follow certain precautions when driving in winter weather or when black ice has the potential to form on the roads.
The first precaution is to always wear your seat belt — something you should be doing anyway. Then, as you drive, watch out for black patches or what appears to be water on the road as this could be black ice. Also, just as in rainy weather, avoid using your cruise control or overdrive as these can send your car out of control. Allow a generous following distance behind the vehicle ahead so you’ll have ample room to stop or maneuver if you hit ice or need to react quickly. Accelerate slowly to maintain traction and never slam on the brakes, which can cause a skid. If you notice a possible trouble spot ahead, shifting into a lower gear will reduce your speed and give you more control of your vehicle. Should these precautions fail and you find yourself beginning to skid, here are a few driving techniques to help you regain control.
If you feel your vehicle beginning to skid, quickly take your foot off the gas, as accelerating only increases your chances of spinning. Also, don’t slam on the brakes; this will send you skidding out of control. If you have a stick shift, push in the clutch or put the transmission in neutral and allow the vehicle’s momentum to carry you across the ice in a straight path. In the event that the car begins to skid, turn the steering wheel in the direction of the skid to get the vehicle back on track.
Using these techniques can make the difference between driving out of a skid and spinning out of control. While winter driving has its risks, being prepared and alert can keep you on the road and out of an accident.