Saturday, February 26, 2011

Crashing through the snow

Pacific Northwest, I do love you.  I have made you my home here for nearly ten years.  I learned to drive on Northeast roads.  Naturally, I’m a speeder (Massachusetts leads the country in speeding tickets).  I am also, ::buffs knuckles on shirt:: a pretty decent driver in snowy conditions thanks to my time driving the roads in the two-season wonder of New England.

This year, I just reached wit’s end with PNW drivers and I believe I am going to have to say it...  Oregonians... Washingtonians... You really suck at driving in winter conditions. As I said on Facebook yesterday morning; when there’s snow in Oregon, it’s like the streets are paved with Stupid.  When there are ‘conditions’ on the road; it’s like I’m watching slack-jawed dimwits chasing a laser-pointer-light.  Seriously guys... Get a grip. Get a clue. Or stay home. 

I have never in my days lived anywhere where I’ve seen so many god-damned four-wheel drive vehicles upside down or smashed on the side of the road during what to me are completely manageable conditions.  I’ve never seen more people get stuck going up hills with front wheel drive and freakin’ studded tires!  I’ve never seen so many people sliding uncontrollably down hills, steering and braking themselves into a smashup with some poor dimwit’s parked car. I’ve never seen more large SUVs careening off the road because they think they’re invincible and are speeding. It’s embarrassing.

Seriously... I’m sorry to say it, but PNWers are snow-driving morons.  

So now I am going to clue my fellow PNWers in on some basic things about driving in snow and ice that you need to learn from the rest of the states where snow falls; where when faced with a snow-event, national emergencies are not declared for two inches of snow. Where they do not equip their vehicles with tires that destroy the roads for six months just for the sake of feeling ‘secure’ for the four days out of the whole year the road-conditions might even moderately justify the use of studded tires (if at all).


Sometime during junior high-school, you probably sat in a classroom, barely cognizant of the teacher; who was likely the kind of guy that wore his pants pulled up to his nipples and his pastel-colored shirts buttoned to the top.  You can probably recall that he droned on and on about things like momentum, velocity and friction; some of those words might have somehow survived the pot-induced haze and clung to one of your few remaining undamaged neurons. These might possibly be somewhat familiar concepts to you.

If you’re still cloudy on this subject, it might explain why you have absolutely no idea what the hell you’re doing when you get behind the wheel when there’s a forecast of half-an-inch of snow in the Portland Metro area.

Here’s the gist of how Momentum and Speed might affect whether or not your beloved Subaru acquires a nice new set of dents or creates dents on someone else’s beloved Subaru:

1)      If you are going up a slippery hill, the worst thing you can do is slow down or stop in the middle of it.  Yesterday, I watched a woman with a front-wheel drive car get stuck on soft incline in Damascus after she slowed down to a crawl when she started going uphill. She caused two other cars to lose traction.  As I drove by them all at a moderate speed in my stud-tire-free front-wheel-drive Toyota, I wanted to pull over and punch her in the head.  MORON.  If you are moving and if you can avoid stopping, then don’t stop. Ramping up your speed a bit before you hit the hill is also good. Do not turn your tires any more than you need to, keep your momentum moving forward and supplement it lightly using your accelerator. Do not gun your engine or think you can race up the hill. Go steady, go gently.  If you brake, if you drop the acceleration while climbing, you’re going to be screwed.  Gravity will start pulling your car backwards.  If you’re in a rear-wheel drive vehicle, where the power has to push the bulk of your car up that hill, you’re doubly screwed, so you have to learn the advantages of gathering and using momentum even more than everyone else. Do not stop or slow down until you reach the crest of that hill.  Once you get there, the rules change.

2)      Going down a slippery hill is the complete opposite.  Your speed going downhill is going to determine how hard you will have to work to stop.  Slippage will happen if you are going too fast.  Your ability to steer will decrease the more your speed increases.  Braking hard (see traction, lesson 2) is not going to help all; it will only guarantee that you will continue to slide.  The trick is to approach a super slippery hill at a crawl.  Ignore all the yahoos behind you having aneurysms and careening off the side of the road and trying to accelerate in the opposite direction of their slide; they’re d-bags who deserve their fate. Natural selection. Concentrate on keeping your tires turning slowly, VERY slowly, grandma-with-a-walker-slow. Keep your tires as straight as possible, and do not tempt gravity to grab you and take you for a spin; once gravity’s got you, there’s not a lot you can do except hope that your ROLLING tires will find something to grab.  If you fall into an uncontrolled slide, let go of the brake, let your tires roll and try to straighten your car. If you get it straight you will have to brake, but not locking your wheels.  To brake, just as I will elaborate in lesson 2, you need to brake-roll- brake-roll- brake-roll- brake-roll- brake-roll < -- are you getting my point here? DO NOT LOCK YOUR BRAKES. EVER. PERIOD. Do not let your tires lock in place . If you do, you should be slapped.  If you have to make a turn while rolling down hill, you should slow down to a complete stop before you effect your turn or you might end up swinging your ass out into a spin like a cat in heat.

3)      Momentum also means that as you’re about to enter traffic onto an icy road, that you need to make sure you merge into traffic when there’s a nice big gap between you and the next oncoming car (refer to Lesson 4 for details).  They’re going at a certain speed. They will be moving forward.  No matter how they cut their tires or brake on an icy road, they’re still going to be moving forward, albeit most likely now in an uncontrolled death-spin if they’re forced to brake for your sorry sake—so keep that in mind when you join a busy road of traffic. Don’t be a colossal hairy d*ck and just pull on the road expecting other people to slow down for you; ESPECIALLY in questionable road conditions where they need more distance to come to a safe stop if they are forced to brake because you’re a self-absorbed douche-bag.

4)      Momentum means look up the road.  If you’re cruising along at a nice, safe clip, you should be looking at the road ahead, watching for those dipsh*ts who like to brake for no reason except because they’re d-bags, or those real losers I describe in Lesson 4, who think pulling out into traffic whenever is perfectly fine.  Be vigilant, or you will not be able to stop in time.  This morning, a woman decided to brake hard because the light turned amber when she had plenty of time to roll through before it turned red.  She hit the brakes and slid into the middle of the intersection anyway, I luckily veered to the right onto the shoulder, and two other cars behind her almost rear-ended one another; the only reason it didn’t happen is that my car had veered out of the way before the guy behind me could hit me, and he would have been rear-ended in turn.  That incident inspired this whole post, because that woman was such a colossal moron, her stupidity could probably be seen from space if it weren't overcast. You do not BRAKE hard or suddenly in wet or icy conditions… period. Watch the lights from afar and understand your ‘point of no return’. If the light turns amber after that, you’ll have to keep going or you will slide into the intersection like moron-woman from this morning, and cause a conga-line of rear-endings.

Lesson 2: TRACTION

First rule of thumb of maintaining traction while moving; your tires need to roll.  Ice and snow have a nasty habit of caking onto your tire and once a tire loses traction, you need to get off that caked icy spot and onto a nice new non-cakey spot on your tire so your car’s wheels can grab something.  That is why locking your brakes (braking hard) is the most moronic thing you can do driving in winter conditions. You might as well be stopping to install four skis on the bottom of your tires because you want to play vehicular-air-hockey. Yet, being a resident of the Mount Hood area, I see it with astonishing frequency.  Every winter, during the few days of snowy fun on the Mount Hood highway, I see SUVs and cars litter up the side of the road like flotsam—products of insanely STUPID driving.  At least they keep our volunteer fire department and the ONE POLICE OFFICER* in the region busy. (*may be a slight exaggeration)

People think that having four-wheel drive or studded tires gives them some sort of immunity to ice and snow. ::scoff:: “Dude, they showed the make of car that I have in a commercial cutting through three feet of snow like a freakin’ icebreaker!”  If any of you ski, you know the difference between skiing hard-packed ice vs. dry, powdery snow and tell me which one is easier to navigate on skis.  One doesn’t require a degree in particle physics to understand marketing vs. real life. 

Les Schwab markets its ass off every winter to insure idiots are all duly instilled with the fear of an icy death. They are constantly sponsoring the Northwest’s TV news weather-reports, where reporters stand in falling snow and spin a forecast of 3 inches of snow into the equivalent of the arrival of an Category 5 Tornado that’s about to send the Northwest states back into the middle ages.  They want you to freak out and then go scurrying to their stores (between your trips to the grocery stores to stock up on survival supplies) with a fist full of cash so you can buy their studded tax-dollar-eater-tires. NEWSFLASH: You do not need studded tires.  In New England, where snow comes down in much greater volume and frequency than it does here, studded tires are ILLEGAL. So are chains.  You can go to pretty much any car-parts place and they’ll laugh at you if you ask for chains. Ask my husband. In ’04 when he went to get some cheap chains for the u-haul for crossing the rockies, they told him laughingly: “Gaah, whaddyah need chains foah? Ye don’t need tiah chains for a liddle snow! HAHAHAHAHAHA!” There had been 11” of snow that night... to them, in late December, that’s ‘a little snow’.

Studded tires are unnecessary and destructive. They cost the state millions of dollars in damage and repairs every year (not to mention private damages of people whose cars are scratched and windshields are cracked by the debris created from these tires).  If I ever hear one of you SOBs complaining about paying too many state taxes while driving a car with wheels that clickety-click, I am going to follow you home and break my foot off in your ass. Sorry, but you deserve it.

All you ever need to drive safely in snow and ice (unless it’s so deep you can’t do sh*t) is a front-wheel-drive car, common sense and the ability to look up the road a distance. 

Many times with rear-wheel drive, even with some 4WD systems, one tire loses traction and the other is still powered, you can start fish-tailing.  The PNW reaction to this is to usually start braking and over-steering and accelerating away from the direction you’re sliding... hence the winter-roadside-junkyard-art decorating our fine roadways.

When your vehicle begins to slide and fishtail, the first thing you do DON’T FREAK OUT AND PANIC (Lesson 3) LIKE A MORON!  Then you lift your goddamned foot off the accelerator.  DO.  NOT.  BRAKE. Braking will spin you. Period. The third thing you do is to carefully counter-steer your tires as fluidly as possible against your fishtail. What does that mean? Steer your tires to counteract the direction your ass is sliding. If you turn your tires into your slide, naturally, you will spin.  Don’t turn the steering wheel hard, just straighten your back, and bite your tongue and concentrate. Keep your tires rolling, but remember that whole ‘brake-roll- brake-roll’ thing I mentioned a little while ago? As you regain control of your steering, start your braking. You might have to steer left and right a few times, but your fishtail will shallow itself and straighten and your car will slow down (you know, because you stopped accelerating and have been pumping your brake).  People with 4WD seem to fall victim to this a lot around here.  People with 4WD are cocky... (Lesson 5)

Lesson 3: PANIC

Seriously.  There’s this video on YouTube of some Portland drivers in the city just winging around on the icy streets like a pinball, smashing into one car after the next; it’s the funniest god damned thing I’ve ever seen in my life. You can see the solid, hot red lights of the brakes on as the momentum just pings and pongs them down the street. The drivers are in full-panic.  The car is sliding in one direction, so their solution is to gun the engine and turn the tires in the opposite direction.  The car is sliding and the stand on their brakes. Surprise, you can’t stop physics, only your f*cking tires!

Panic is your downfall. If you submit to it, you’re going to get hurt.  I saw a bottle-blonde idiot in a Land-Rover last year driving from the mountain to Sandy on a packed-snow road.  I was coming towards her.  She was moving pretty fast, probably about 50mph just before Shorty’s Corner.  Her car started to fish tail and she yanked her steering wheel into her slide and her brake lights went hot and she spun out, ending up facing traffic on the side of the road.  I laughed all the way to Cherryville because the image I glimpsed of her face was frozen in my mind.  It looked like this:

[kom-uhn]  [kuhn-sid-uh-rey-shuhn] and [pey-shuhns]

I understand this lesson may prove to be the most challenging for PNWers, considering that most of them have hardly any grasp of these concepts on a daily basis, even in dry and normal conditions.

For instance, turning into traffic for most people in the civilized world isn't really a difficult concept. You stop where the street meets the road upon which you are merging, you wait patiently for traffic to pass by until there is a gap that is sufficiently wide for you to pull in safely, without disrupting the flow of traffic and causing anyone to veer, slam on their brakes, change lanes, or eat steering wheel.  On a busy highway, this might require you to wait a several seconds. 

In the Pacific Northwest, this is much too long to wait; so drivers here, after implementing the patented California Rolling Stop, just turn at their leisure onto a busy street without the slightest thought.  “Gap schmap; they’ll slow down for me!”  As the driver thinks about possibly attempting to get up to speed while they sip their coffee, cars are violently veering around him like he’s a boulder in a river, middle fingers flying, horns blaring.  This is typical PNW behaviour.  What’s even worse, it is acted out with impunity during wet conditions, which as we all know, is not exactly the rarest road condition around these parts. Thinking that perhaps oncoming drivers might need a few more yards of slow-down time in order to avoid hitting your ass because of possible hydroplaning—are we getting where I’m going here?  Are we?

I would not be even marginally surprised to find out that auto-collisions involving cars entering traffic is higher here than is in other places.  I am always astounded by how many cars are T-boned on Hwy 26 every year.  But what trumps it all, people pull this sh*t when roads are packed in snow and icy.   They just pull right in.  The concept of momentum (which we discussed in lesson 1) is so alien to them that they have no idea how a vehicle might possibly be unable to veer away in time... or have enough lead space to actually effectively stop their vehicle. I suspect they think nothing of it at all. Their thoughts are probably on more pressing matters, like that strange rash on their butt, or what chairs would look like if peoples' knees bent the other way.  Oncoming cars would likely have to slam on their brakes (traction, lesson 2) in a panicked but probably fruitless attempt not to plow right into your car.  They might end up spinning out into oncoming traffic. But hey, as long as *they* die and not you right? < -- sarcasm, FYI.

COMMON CONSIDERATION AND PATIENCE are concepts that can save lives if you bother to learn and understand them.  Waiting patiently for a better time to pull in, where you are not causing the flow of traffic to be disrupted; be considerate that you are entering traffic and it is your responsibility to fall into the flow of it, not disrupt it.  Be considerate that there are other people on the road besides you, you selfish moron.  This concept works especially well during wintertime, when the roads sometimes require a little special care when driving.


Yeah. Don’t. They will not make you invincible. Your car will not be dancing gracefully through the snow like a porpoise.  Life is not a Subaru commercial. Tires still get caked even with studs.  4WD and traction control are not infallible.  You cannot drive in winter conditions like you drive in dry conditions, it’s as simple as that. If you think I’m wrong, then you are a douche-bag and deserve to go careening off the road and to have your piece of sh*t car totaled.


Being a good snow driver doesn’t mean you drive like one of those 4WD car commercials, sailing over the stuff like it’s water and your car is Jesus.  Being a good snow driver means knowing your limitations and being smart enough to know when you should or should not drive, when you should or should not slow the f*ck down, or when you should or should not pull into traffic. Sometimes, even I, the smuggest of snow-drivers, am not too proud to get up in the morning, look out the window and say; “Wow, maybe I should stay off the damned roads today.” I often recuse myself from driving in bad conditions because I don’t have a lot of faith in the ignorant idiots on the road rather than in any direct concern for the ice or snow.  I know that’s mean, but again... I know when to lift my hands up and back off.  Especially on the road to Mount Hood; where cars-full of knuckle-dragger snowboarders marinating in pot-smoke think the studded tires on their 1999 4Runner is enough to go speeding along (Lesson 7) at or above the posted speed limits. Those are posted for NORMAL, dry conditions, folks.

No further elaboration required.

Okay, just an anecdote from yesterday’s drive home in the evening.  I left work and discovered that the wet roads that had caused such panic and shut down schools in Portland were turning into iced oil-sheen-flavoured slushie on Hwy 26 a bit past Sandy, so as any responsible person would do, I took my Massachusetts-trained lead-foot off the accelerator and moseyed my way home, watching way ahead for the dipsh*ts who might be (not) waiting to get onto the road from side-roads, just in case.  As I was driving, a 4WD SUV went screaming by me at mach-7, snow and slush flying off the tires.  I rolled my eyes and kept driving.  A few mileposts later, that very SUV was spun out on the side of the road and another car was also taking a nature hike.  Slow the f*ck down you idiots.  Your Navigators and Yukons are not tanks. :::shakes head::: Total. F*cking. Morons.  Lots of emergency vehicle activity last night...  I wonder why. ::hmmm:: The sad thing is, the amount of snow and ice on the ground was really negligible. Wednesday’s and Thursday’s snow was a joke.  The way people were driving in it, was not.  It was just stupid. Really, really stupid.

Oh, and PNW television stations, newsflash… three to five inches of snow in the forecast does not constitute a WINTER STORM! It’s just precipitation.  It doesn’t require special coverage of wild-eyed reporters bundled up like Nanook of the North, standing on a street corner, pointing out the moderate accumulation of snow as if each flake is composed of acid with a pH of -4. Sheep and humans share 96% of the same DNA. Just saying. Stop listening to these idiots.


Lauren said...

Buhahahahah!!!! So true! People in this place can't drive in normal conditions, let alone snow.

Christine H. said...

Not that it really matters, but isn't that Seattle in the video?

The Hungarican Chick said...

You're probably right. I just noticed the K5 logo. That's a Seattle station. Anyway... it's all the same... Seattle, Portland, all snow morons.

Justin Gist P. of Maryland and France said...

OMG, this is epic... I laughed. a. lot.

So, where I am in Maryland... drivers are nuts whenever there is precipitation... doesn't take a snow storm (1" is enough for a disaster scenario here)... actually a little rain, or possibly bright sun on a cloudless day may be enough to cause people to make traffic back up unnecessarily or freak out.

I may not be an expert on snow, but I try to be safe. I've driven in at least a couple inches with rear-wheel drive in Pennsylvania and New York (countryside) and survived without hitting anything. In fact, I've never hit anything when it snowed here in Maryland (and I've done this more than a couple times in rear-wheel drive). I'm going to keep my fingers crossed... I appreciate your detail here, I'll keep some of your tips in mind to make sure it doesn't get out of hand the next time, lol.


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