Snow Driving Etiquette . . . And Its Lack

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Lots of advice goes out every year about how to drive in the snow. But the single most important piece of advice about snow-day driving is almost never mentioned – probably because the cardinal rule of modern advice-giving is to never tell people the truth when it might cause discomfort or offense.

It is, simply: Stay home if you lack the skills or the appropriate vehicle – or both – to competently deal with snow on the road.

But I have to get work!

Would that fly in court, if spoken by a well-doused drunk?

We are marinated in the sickly juice of saaaaaaaaaaaaafety. When it suits.

The glaucomic old lady who “didn’t see” that the light was red and plowed into your car is treated much kindlier by the system than the young man who does the same thing but “didn’t see” the light because he was fogged by booze rather than old age. Both are impaired – neither was a “safe” driver – but one form of impairment is arbitrarily and very strangely deemed less objectionable than the other, despite both having the same not-safe results.

People get tickets for pecking at dey sail fawns while driving – but it’s not only ok to peck at the in-car touchscreens now present in nearly every new car, the car manufacturers are doubling-down on making these screens to peck at ever-more-gaudy and harder to peck at without taking one’s eyes off the road. These glowing touch/tap/swipe distractions are lauded by the same media that unctuously lectures about the evils of sail fawn use while driving.

No “tickets” for the car industry, of course.

Back to this snow-day driving business.

Some people are worse behind the wheel than glaucomic old ladies infused with a liter of vodka when the snow begins to fall. Even if it is just barely falling. Often, it takes just a few flakes.

No actual snow need be on the road.

They drive absurdly slowly at the first hint of snow – if the forecast says it may snow later in the day. If  the speed limit is 55, they’ll crawl along at 25 – even if the road itself is entirely clear. They are put off by the presence of snow in the air – or on the shoulder. It might suddenly leap into the road, apparently.

Their hyper-caution would be less objectionable if they didn’t impose it on everyone else. Like too much toilet tissue and not enough water, they clog up the works. And will almost never extend their suffering victims the simply courtesy of moving off to the right to let the train of cars caught behind them get past them. Instead, they’ll turn their emergency flashers on – and continue gimping along like a crippled turtle.

These drivers also tend to be the type who will ride the brakes or tap them constantly – which has the same effect on the stability of their vehicle as tapping at a Jenga tower has upon its stability. They do not grok that smooth and steady is the ticket – especially in the snow.

Particularly in the curves.

Stability control, ABS and other forms of electronic idiot-proofing can only do so much to ameliorate idiocy. Often, they enhance it by encouraging people who ought to stay home to head out. Like the drunk who thinks a strong cup of coffee will counteract the effects of the five rum and Cokes he had. 

My car has all-wheel-drive! 

So they drive too fast for the reduced traction conditions, having confused an AWD-equipped vehicle’s superior ability to get going on a snow-slicked surface with its capacity to stop on one. The car industry makes the problem worse by fitting many AWD-equipped cars with high-performance (rather than snow performance) tires. These vehicles are often worse in snow than a rear-drive vehicle, if the rear-drive vehicle has a good set of snow or even all-season tires.        

These people are a hazard to themselves and anyone in the vicinity. They ought to stay home – or hitch a ride – for the same reason “society” demands that the soused by booze do the same. Or be liable for the consequences.

Don’t expect Inept Driver Checkpoints any time soon, though.   

. .  .

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45 COMMENTS

  1. That video looks like what I have to suffer through several days a week.

    The only good news I can offer is that LEO’s around here will not issue payment papers for passing in the Double Yellow Zones when going around Clovers.

  2. Driving our Volvo XC 70 with Bridgstone Bilzzaks on snow covered roads is a joy! When it get’s a bit slushy I’ll take the extra weight, PSI of my truck with Blizzaks.

    I’m still waiting to get pulled over for going to fast for the conditions. I can’t wait to explain why I was not going to fast for the conditions to a judge. “Officer, have you ever driven my car in snow?” “How can you know then that I was going to fast for the condititons?”…

  3. I plowed snow for 20 years. I was never disappointed when I looked for the stupidity of people with their SUV’s equipped with “all season tires” thinking they could do anything and go anywhere. My Ram 2500 had very aggressive tires was loaded down with salt but I still knew it had limits.

    One night I watched a Jeep come roaring up an on-ramp which approached a bridge over the Susquehanna River. It was slipping and sliding all over the place. At one point it hit the curb/sidewalk and bounced into the air. I thought for sure it was going to flip over the rail and end up in the drink, but it didn’t. Once he had all four wheels on the ground he was Mr. stupid again.

    • I see that around here every first storm of the season, all the bozos that believe the tv commercials and think their SUV’s can do anything end up flipped upside down on the side of the road. Yeah, it might go in the snow, but can it stop?

  4. In Norther Alberta, we do really have a lot of snow sometimes. I have an AWD and Anti-lock brakes, BUT I also put Nokian Hakeplita studded tries on my car. (I’ve heard these tires aren’t available in the States but Nokian is the only tire manufacturer in the world – according to Wikipedia – that has a year round facility for testing and developing winter tires.) I swear, you’d have to try hard to make that thing skid. You can do 110 km/hour with cruise control in perfect comfort that your car can handle the weather. I live on an acreage and never plow my driveway. I never have a problem. I cannot say how annoying it is hat people will simply not put winter tires on their vehicle “because you don’t need them” and they do 30 km/h below the speed limit as soon as the weather turns bad. Yes, an AWD drive helps you go, but not stop BUT with the right tires, you can stomp on the brakes and stop very quickly, for example when wildlife jumps out in front of your vehicle. Actually, putting winter tires on your vehicle is not really more expensive than using All Seasons Tires all year round because you only use the All Seasons tires for 3 seasons and the winter tires for 1 season. Both sets of tires last longer because you aren’t using them all year round. Winter tires cost $900 roughly. I got rear ended by someone with All Seasons Tires when it was very icy. I was at a complete stop at a stop sign. It cost him $2800 in damages and was a hassle for me even though he admitted it was his fault. Personally, I think there should be an insurance incentive to have winter tires when it is warranted.

  5. What constitutes an “appropriate vehicle?” Wouldn’t that be a snow plow, which are becoming very rare in these days of budgetary shortfalls?

  6. A month ago I almost had a serious accident along these lines. The snow had just stopped falling, streets weren’t plowed, but it was only two inches, and leaving my driveway I braked and tested the level road. Slippery, but not terrible. After encountering no other drivers for a stretch, I made a left onto a familiar downhill road at about 25-30 mph, and had no issues. Until…. rounding the first half of a short, narrow S-curve — surprise! — I spotted two cars stopped in the road in the worst possible place — just after a blind curve on the downhill side of a road with no shoulder!

    “What are those assholes doing there?” I asked aloud. [1 second gone.] I stepped cautiously on the brake pedal. Click, click, click, etc. My car’s ABS kicked in, which did absolutely nothing to slow me down. [2 seconds gone.] I took my foot off the brake. Now what? [3 seconds gone.] Again I stepped on the brake. More worthless clicks. [4 seconds gone.]

    (In retrospect I should have put the car into a lower gear, but as it turned out that may have worked against me.)

    I was two seconds away from smashing into both vehicles at 30 mph, with gathering downhill momentum. What to do? No vehicle was approaching in the oncoming lane, so I steered my runaway car into it. [5 seconds gone.]

    Suddenly, a car DID appear in the oncoming lane, moving toward an unexpected head-on collision. I banged on my horn to warn all three drivers. HONK, HONK, etc., at least a dozen times. At that point all I recall seeing was the area just ahead of the lead a-hole on my right. Foot off the brake (naturally) I successfully steered back into my lane ahead of that clover, and completed the second half of the S-turn with no problem. After that it was smooth sailing the rest of the way.

    It was a close call, and my heart was beating rapidly (but not as much as I would have thought). Staying calm and breaking the rules (steering into potential oncoming traffic) enabled me to avoid a major accident. I have no idea why the two cars stopped where they did, but my recollection is that they were little cars — compacts or subcompacts, usually driven by old geezers or teenage girls, none of whom has any business driving on snow-covered roads. They hadn’t had an accident; perhaps they were afraid to continue down the “treacherous” road — with no clue that they’d parked in a very dangerous spot.

    I’ve always enjoyed driving in the snow; it’s a bit of a challenge. But I learned a lesson that day, and won’t take that particular route until after it’s plowed. Oh, yeah — and I’ll be more alert for clueless clovers in the snow.

  7. Of course, clover driving or any sort, snow or otherwise, tests the patience of even the best of us – a group which includes Eric.

    Nevertheless, I find the deference paid by the clovers to pigmobiles, conflagration cruisers, and school jitneys to be, by far, the most annoying.

  8. 2-4 inches fell in the Omaha, NE area yesterday. I saw people pulled over on the hammer lane and slow lane shoulders on the interstate because they were to freaked out to drive any more. They just sat there waiting for the state patrol to come get them. Why even get in your car if you can’t handle it. It wasn’t really that bad.

    • Hi Hamish,

      People have been conditioned – are being conditioned – to be Elio. Helpless, passive – in order to be more effectively controlled. America was once a nation that esteemed the competent, the “can-do” person who questioned things and didn’t follow “the rules” when it seemed to him they made no sense.

      Fast forward. Most people today worship rules, however arbitrary. They are seemingly incapable of exercising initiative. They are herd animals.

      And what happens to herd animals?

      • Eric: It’s a minor annoyance, but I’ve noticed that you seem to mix up “Elio” with “Eloi” a lot. “Elio” is the maybe-maybe-not company that wants to make a low-cost three-wheeler in Louisiana, named after the founder. “Eloi” are the one’s from /The Time Machine/ that are pretty much useless for anything.

        You don’t know something about Elio (related to the Eloi?) that I don’t, do you? I recall you had at least a passing interest some time ago, before more financing and regulatory delays for them.

        • Hi Mike,

          I know; it’s what comes of not having a copy editor – or any help running this show. I am the writer/editor/copy editor/graphics department and everything else. My copy’s pretty clean, but I’m not perfect and such transpositions will inevitably occur.

            • Hi Mike,

              You bet – and thanks for the kind words! The “crew” here is part of what keeps me pouring the coals to her. Hell, if I had any business/marketing sense, we could really leave a footprint.

  9. In snow (and mud) momentum is your friend. Having driven lots of dirt roads, you get used to the vehicle not being well connected to the road. Drifting around a bit doesn’t bother you. Most drivers have little experience driving that way anymore.

    • Hi Bill,

      Yup. Those of us who grew up before all these saaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety features were grafted onto cars had to learn how to deal with snow and low traction conditions. This made most of us better drivers. For the same reason that almost anyone who exercises at least a little bit will as a result of that be in better shape than the person who never does.

      • eric, I grew up learning to drive in my daddy’s lap but come double digits as in 10, that wasn’t acceptable and I needed some real wheel time other than the Jeep(surplus) and tractor. So I took the wheel anytime anybody offered and my band teacher would let me drive his car(unknown to parents).

        All of a sudden I was “needed” as a driver so the Jeep got lots of use and then the pickup. My grandfather’s way of making a driver of me was his pickup with a cattle trailer full of cows and a huge mudhole right down from our gate. I got in it and he said “Change gears, double clutch it”. I had no idea but I soon learned to double clutch and get used to the tail wagging the dog(cattle hauling). My BIL who was a hell of a driver used to take me on runs and he’d top out his 56 3 on the tree, Blue Flame six on dirt roads(105)and twisties were a way of life. I got to drive Class 7 trucks on the gin yard and later on the highway. I seemed to be always in mud and with a load. I read all about driving with Sports Car Graphic and such. I learned to steer into a skid and practiced it constantly. A loose road was just regular stuff for me.

      • I learned to drive snow in a ’72 Nova, 350ci rear wheel drive light in the ass end no power steering or brakes and shod with bias ply snow tires in the rear.

        I also learned winter exhibition driving in that car, and it was a blast. The only time driving in the snow was tough is when I did not get the M50-14s switched over to snow tires before the first snow.

  10. Another issue may be winter tires, or lack of them more precisely. Here in Switzerland “pneus d’hiver” are not required (yet) but you may very well have problems with your insurance should you be involved in an accident without winter tires on your vehicle. In Germany “Winterreifen” are required.

    • Hi Jimmie,

      The irony is that never before have cars – in general – been more able to handle snow than they are now. AWD is common. All modern cars have traction control and ABS. Yet, despite all this, people today seem more inept in general than ever.

      • ABS sucks in the snow. I count on the wheel lock up. The “Snow Wedge” that builds up in front of the tire aids greatly in braking. I think it works better. I’ll pass just about anybody, unless it’s icy. The only trouble with deep snow is the extra gas from having to be constantly on the throttle from pushing through it. That and momentary inconvenience of getting stuck.

  11. Spun the truck out for the first time in 15+ years I guess, the other day. Snow and ice covered road, near the top of a hill, thought it was more water than ice, took the 4WD out of gear and not five minutes later, broke loose.

    A quick flick of the wheel, a quick blast of throttle, got me going right instead of left (stay out of that oncoming traffic ferchristsakes), into the warm embrace of a four foot snowbank.

    Toss the spilled coffee, back into 4WD, and on my way.

    No stress.

  12. Yeah pulling over for first responders when you are on a four lane with a turning lane or median and in the opposite lanes is common practice in DC metro. In all conditions, but particularly snow, the motto of Maryland drivers is “wrong speed wrong time.” These jackasses go 50 in the left hand lane on a clear interstate and go 80 in the right hand lane in traffic as it’s coming to a screeching halt!

    • Hi Chaz,

      I know it! I used to live int he area – the Clover is thick up there. It surely has to correlate with the NoVa environs being the epicenter of government, which is to saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety what the Vatican is to Catholicism.

      • Clovers are everywhere. Slow clovers can easily be made to run hard…..just pass them in a big rig. It’s uncanny how nobody can stand to be passed by a semi-truck. I often, like tonight, ear it back and turn on the cruise at upper 70’s. When I come on a slower car they either speed up or have to pass after you pass them. Of course once they pass you when your cruise is on 79, they immediately slow down. Well, shit, they just wanted to run faster than you but 79? No, they can’t deal with it so they immediately slow down. So I pull out and pass again, the entire time never varying one mph. But it ain’t good enough so they have to pass again and then you have to pass them again. This can go on till you want to run over them. If they only had a clue what a 84,000 lb. truck will do to a lesser vehicle.

        • I have the same thing happen to me 8southman all of the time. I think that they just want to be in front of the truck so that they can see further ahead, but do not necessarily want to go the same speed or faster than the truck. Contradictory thinking is normal for them, if it can even be called thinking at all. I also hate the clovers who pace me along side of my trailer tandems until I catch up with a slower truck while climbing hills. I suspect they do that intentionally.

  13. Let those snowclovers move to my neck of the woods if they need to learn how to drive in the snow. On the other hand, maybe that’s not a good idea.

  14. Eric,
    Boy you run the gamut! That’s why we live in SoAZ. One time in May many years back, we were towing a 5th wheel on I-70 east towards the Eisenhower Tunnel holding our butts in 2″ of snow when a corvette passed us going about 80. After that we figured we were OK, heheh! I hear almost every car in Alaska has dent in it from “bumper cars” in the winter. A friend of mine from Chicago has told me a lot of scary winter driving stories as well.

  15. All we can hope for is that they all stay home when it snows. The message should now be, ‘Stay home or you could die…….’, hahahaha.
    Much more fun for me when it snows. I love it. It has become the only time we can have a little fun.

    Not too much better than going sideways with the power on. And hats off to Chrysler for not making a very good anti-skid thing, whether they tried to or not I don’t know. But I do know that my GM pickup anti-everything sucks the life out of my pickup. Doesn’t let you go sideways, spin a tire, whatever. Even if you turn off the nannies, they turn themselves back on. Not so with my 300. Put it in sport and it lets you play a little, turn off the anti-skid and it lets you play a lot, just not full swap which will indeed turn it back on. Enough to have a lot of fun in the snow for this old man.

    Everyone is right here though, everything AWD now is killing it for us. Everyone thinks they are immortal with it. As i see many many more smash-m-up’s almost every time it snows even an inch now. I know cause I have to dig them out of the woods with my tractor on my road all the time.

  16. It’s amazing how clovers has made a local interstate highway into a complete disaster (I-65 in Indiana). It’s flat, is ramrod straight for miles and miles, and when it does curve, the curves are so gentle you don’t really notice and you don’t even need to slow down. It should be nearly impossible to crash on this road.

    But there are hundreds if not thousands of preventable collisions every year. Granted when the snow flies it does turn into a windswept crapshoot, since its hard to keep snowplowed (open farmland brings drifting).

    But it’s a preview of what is to come when Musk’s partial self driving cars become more common. People will be lulled into a stupor thinking the car drives itself. Lulled like you do when you drive a boring road.

    I think the safety features are making the road MORE not less unsafe.

  17. In a clover first, this morning I was behind a 40 something woman driving a minivan, in front of her, a school bus. She stayed 100 yards behind the bus and when it stopped to pick up children, she would signal to the right, pull over to the curb and put the van in park. Once the flashing lights on the bus went off, she signaled left, put the van back in drive and pulled back onto the road, never exceeding 15 MPH. I could not believe what I was witnessing.

    • Hi Bill,

      I haven’t seen that yet… but I have seen similar. It’s like political correctness in that people seem to be falling over themselves to demonstrate how “safe” they are.

        • Hi Bill!

          It’s getting noticeably worse. This business of extreme over-deference to school buses is a case in point. I routinely witness cars following 50 or more yards behind… for saaaaaaaaaafety. Stopping for a bus when they are in the opposite lane across a median divider.

          This same behavior is exhibited when a Clover encounters a snow plow. Or a fire truck.

          The servility and idiocy on display makes my teeth ache…

          • Eric: Wouldn’t matter as much if the damn buses DIDN’T STOP EVERY 50 F$%@^’ING YARDS!!!! They also don’t car how many cars are behind them…..

            • I know Tom! The bus I was behind stops every single block in the residential area. I guess the children are too tender and delicate to walk down the street and have one bus stop instead of 6.

    • Around here, buses move into the middle of the road to purposefully prevent both lanes from moving.

      The ambulance drivers are also quite entitled. Have almost been in an accident with two of them. One blew though a red light without sirens (only lights), almost hitting me when I had a green light. The other passed over double yellows around a turn into my lane to pass their lane’s traffic. I had to slam on the brakes to not die in both cases.

      I continue to think that the increased lack of decency and respect towards others (especially on the roads) is directly correlated to the degradation of the human race. Another example: when I’m part of a line of clovers, people will ride my ass like I’m the problem. They never try to pass though, they don’t have the balls for that. They’d rather have no room to hit the brakes if I needed to.

  18. What is UP with the clovers turning on the hazards and continuing to drive 25 MPH in the left lane of the interstate after barely an inch of snow? Now it is not only snow, but rain too boggles the clover mind.

    And if it is a nice sunny day, the sun is too bright for clover! Clover apparently doesn’t know sunglasses have been invented and is confused in the extreme by the visors. What are those flaps for? Why do they tilt up and down and move front to side? Ohhh, there is a mirror built into the visor! They move so the women can put on their makeup no matter where they are sitting!

    There is no getting away from clovers these days, especially if you live in a metropolitan area.

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