After spending six years in Alaska, I thought winter driving at Fort Drum, New York, would be a snap. After all, I’d seen my share of accidents and figured I was prepared for anything. It only took a week to show me I was wrong.
It was October and the lake effect snow had kicked in a month early in New York. The roads quickly became hazardous as plummeting temperatures caused black ice to form. I’d been out that day, hunting with a friend from post. It was starting to get dark, so we were headed home in my four-wheel-drive pickup. I thought I’d just slow down and take it easy. I figured the other drivers were used to these conditions, so getting home shouldn’t be a problem. However, as I was about to find out, never assume others know what they’re doing or care one bit about safety.
I’d only driven a couple of miles when I rounded a corner to find an oncoming vehicle skidding into my lane. He was out of control, but I was going slow and could still steer. My options were simple — either slam into the car or aim for the snowbank. That was a no-brainer, so I steered right into the white stuff. Just then, the other driver regained control and continued down the road.
Unfortunately, now I was in trouble. When my pickup plowed into the snow, I lost control, jumped the bank and landed in a ditch. I checked myself and my passenger. We’d both been wearing our seat belts and were all right. We got out to see if the truck was damaged. It didn’t appear to be, but now we had other problems. Stuck in 3-foot-deep snow, even my four-wheel-drive couldn’t get us out of the ditch and back over the snowbank. Fortunately for us, about a half hour later, a truck came by and the driver used a chain to pull us out of the snow. The good Samaritan left after refusing to accept anything other than a thank you and handshake.
By now, the importance of driving safely had really set in for me. We still had more than 10 miles to go before we’d be home. We’d gone about halfway when I saw snowplows in the oncoming lane. I passed the first one and saw another coming around a corner ahead. Just at that moment, a Honda Accord passed me going way too fast for the conditions. The driver apparently saw the approaching snowplow and tried to get back into her lane, but she didn’t make it. The Accord smashed into the snowplow and then spun out of control and into a ditch. I was so close when it happened that parts of the Honda flew off and hit my truck.
I stopped and quickly checked the snowplow operator and the car’s driver for injuries. As I approached the wrecked automobile, a beautiful young girl looked up at me. I noticed her nose was split all the way to the bone. She’d also cut her left eye, and her neck and chest were badly bruised. She told me everything hurt and asked if she looked badly injured. I told her that she was cut and bruised, but she’d be fine. I tried to talk to her as much as possible as we waited for the ambulance.
What really struck me was what she said about the crash. She told me she was from South Carolina and had never driven in snow. She said she’d been skiing all day. Although she felt too tired to drive, she was in a hurry to get home. I looked at the car parts scattered up and down the road and then back at her. It was obvious she’d need cosmetic surgery to repair her injuries. This accident should have never happened. It never would have happened had she done a quick risk assessment before passing me. She was going to pay a very high price for being in a hurry.
The lessons learned here are simple. First, never assume your winter driving skills can always compensate for the stupidity of others. If the weather is really bad, stay off the road. If some fool wants to hit your car, make him come up your driveway to do it. And don’t be in such a hurry that you ignore the threats during winter weather. If you do, Mother Nature will put you on a collision course with the consequences.
Tips for Slippery Conditions
Ice forming on an asphalt surface is often hard to see. The conditions for black ice are right if you have to scrape frost or ice off your car windshield. If you find yourself on a patch of black ice:
- Don’t panic. Keep your cool and take your foot off the gas pedal.
- Don’t slam on the brakes. This will only make the situation worse.
- Don’t make quick turning maneuvers. Steer gently in the direction you want the vehicle to go.
When your vehicle is involved in a skid:
- Ease your foot off the accelerator or brake pedal.
- Avoid slamming on the brake.
- Downshift if you have a manual transmission.
- Look and steer in the direction you want the vehicle to go.
- Do not oversteer. Make necessary steering adjustments smoothly and gradually.
- If you overcorrect at first, be prepared for a skid in the opposite direction. Again, remember to look and steer where you want the car to go. Continue to steer until your vehicle recovers from the skid. Once the vehicle is under control again, adjust your speed to the road conditions.