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The Homefront: Winter driving conditions require a new set of rules

By D. Louise Brown - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Jan 11, 2022

D. Louise Brown

There’s nothing like passing a jack-knifed semitrailer on a mountainside highway during a snowstorm to make you reassess the level of your driving skills — and the sanity of your choice in being out there in the first place.

The weather report said the storm wouldn’t be coming through until later in the day. I needed to travel north to a funeral. New tires on my car made me feel braver, more invincible. There may have been some overconfident attitude thrown in there too. But who doesn’t want to test their new tires, right? Besides, I’ve driven that canyon for years so what’s a little snowstorm, right?

Just after the summit, as I started down the other side, I saw the jack-knifed semi. What I didn’t see at the time due to the cement barricade between me and the opposite lane was the car underneath it. I later learned no lives were lost. But no one escapes that without injuries.

A long line of cars stretched out behind the rig, all doomed to sitting right where they were for a very long time until the trailer could be coaxed around, the car extracted, and everything pulled on up to the summit and down the other side. Those of us traveling in the opposite direction faced the troubling question of when we’d be able to make it back through the canyon that day, if at all.

Much later in the day I learned the canyon was cleared. It was time for my return trip. And right at the place where the rig had been wedged, I lost sight of the road and everything around me as clouds of swirling snow encircled my car. It was as if I was driving in a cotton ball. I swear the only thing that brought me through was my repeated plea of, “Help me see the road!”

I obviously made it or I wouldn’t be writing this. But I’m a convert now to a new set of winter driving rules. For starters, when the weather report says there will be snow — there will be snow. And new tires won’t keep you on a road you can’t see.

Other rules:

Pack like you’re going to have to hike out. I was wearing a dress. If I had slid over the edge, and survived, I would have had to crawl back up the hillside in heels, then stand there in a snowstorm in a dress and nylons. So the new rule is to wear tennis shoes during the drive, and pack pants and a second coat in the back seat.

Pack a stack of old bath towels. My small first aid kit was of little use years ago when I watched a child who was not buckled in launched out the back window of a car during a vicious accident. The back of his head and body were gouged from skidding on the road. I carefully laid him on an old towel that had been covering the back seat of my car while we waited for the ambulance to arrive. Since then, I’ve kept towels in my car for many reasons: first aid, warmth, traction. Just a simple stack of towels.

Keep, at the very least, a conversational connection with your personal deity. This will bring confidence and calmness when your car starts sliding or the snow blows so hard you can’t see or some aggressive driver makes you swerve. Appealing to God brings more comfort than a useless string of curses. And you have someone to thank when it’s over.

Watch your speed. Remember, this is not the Indy 500. The idea of the ride is to get from point A to point B. Your biggest challenge is folks who still don’t understand this and drive like they’re testing their new tires. They clearly haven’t slid off the road. Yet. Don’t be one of them. Most citations for accidents in snowstorms charge “Driving too fast for road conditions.”

So slow down. Pack your trunk. Respect the weather report. Say your prayers. And pretend the other car coming toward you has your mother in it.

They’re winter driving rules we can live by.

D. Louise Brown lives in Layton. She writes a biweekly column for the Standard-Examiner.

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