JOHN M. BILLIAR
Command Safety Office
Fort Drum, New York
It was 5:37 p.m. Just 23 minutes more (but who’s counting?) and I’d be on my way home. Then in walked the motor sergeant, who directed me to move a trailer before I left. I begrudgingly headed outside only to find it snowing so heavily that every truck in the parking lot was blanketed in fresh powder. Being smarter than the average Joe, I had a brilliant idea. Instead of taking the time to warm the truck and clear the snow and ice, I would just roll down the window, drive with my head out and still be off duty on time. I hadn’t even driven 100 yards when I ran into a forklift someone had left in the road. Needless to say, I didn’t get off duty on time.
This less-than-stellar moment in my career happened 25 years ago. Back then, I knew that not clearing the windows was a stupid move, but I still felt I was incredibly unlucky that someone left a forklift in the road. A few years ago, however, I read a newspaper article that changed my belief that I had been a victim of bad luck.
The article stated that a 21-year-old man — the same age I was when I had my accident — had pleaded guilty to criminal vehicular homicide for running over and killing an 85-year-old woman. Witnesses said they saw the man driving down the street with his head out the window because he couldn’t see through his frost-covered windshield. The driver told the police he never saw the woman because she was jaywalking across the street from his right. After reading the article, I realized my failure to assess the risk of my actions could have been much worse.
Operating a vehicle with your head out the window may be the extreme in irresponsible winter driving, but if you live up north, you are sure to see motorists showcasing their “peephole driving” skills. Peephole driving is the death-defying act of peering through a Frisbee-sized porthole in the windshield. These drivers believe this enables them to still see pedestrians at crosswalks, cars in adjacent lanes, animals darting across streets or maybe even a forklift on the side of the road. Driving in snow and ice is already dangerous. Why make it worse by failing to clear the snow off your vehicle?
During winter, the most important thing a driver can do is to plan for extra travel time. This includes taking care of your vehicle before you even leave the driveway. Make sure every glass surface is clear and transparent by using a snowbrush and/or ice scraper. Your side-view mirrors and all lights should be brushed and cleared as well. After all, you need just as much, if not more, visibility in poor conditions because of increased stopping distances and other drivers that fail to adapt to the slick road surface. The smart driver takes it a step further, though, and clears off the snow from the entire car. Failing to do so could result in the snow you left on the roof either sliding down and covering your windshield as you're slowing down or flying off onto someone else’s windshield, causing them to crash into you or another vehicle.
Operating a vehicle without clearing off the snow and ice is not only dangerous, it’s against the law in some states. And if you’re driving a military vehicle, you’re just plain wrong. Training Circular 21-305-20 12, Manual for the Wheeled Vehicle Operator, paragraph 16-26, states: “Good all-around visibility is the first requirement for safe driving. Keep windshields and windows, mirrors, headlights, spotlights and clearance lights clean and free of snow and ice.”
If snow or ice on a vehicle contributes to a mishap, whether it’s due to you or someone else exercising bad judgment or actions, it’s not bad luck. It’s irresponsible and shows a total disregard for others’ safety. Take a couple extra minutes to do what’s right. Clear off those vehicles so you get to your destination safe and sound.