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Cautionary teen-driving tips for winter travel

Tuesday, November 5, 2013by  Jon Osterberg

The best knowledge your driving instructor can share is worthless if it’s not put to use.
   I was a prime example of that Sunday, driving west over the Cascades on snowy Interstate 90. As you can tell, this will be one of those “Do as I say, not as I do” stories.
   Safety experts and drivers-ed teachers tell motorists to be prepared for winter driving on mountain passes, even if it isn’t winter. Sunday was a be-prepared day. We awoke near Cle Elum to find intermittent snow flurries, the first flakes of the season. Snowfall surged and subsided all day long.
   Around 4 o’clock we left for home, driving west toward Snoqualmie Pass in our Honda CR-V. It’s a nimble little car with four-wheel drive. The tires are getting worn and losing tread, but I barreled up the mountains anyway, focused on the exciting Seahawks radio broadcast.
   Our CR-V had yet to be stocked with blankets, extra food and water, a shovel, and chains, even though it was Nov. 3. As it turned out we never needed those things. But we easily could have.
   Along Lake Keechelus, we looked northwest toward the summit but saw only a dense cloud. It seemed like fog it was so thick. Turns out it was thick with falling snow. We drove into the snow cloud at Hyak, and instantly the road got slick.
   Reminder No. 1: Experts say roads are most slippery right around freezing (32°) and on overpasses, which lack ground insulation.
   Sure enough, driving uphill past the ski areas, the car in front of me slowed to around 40 mph, so I moved left toward the passing lane. My tires hit the slushy mound that piles up in between lanes, and we lost traction.
   I backed off the gas and steered in the direction of the skid, quickly regaining control. My wife yelped something that might have been exuberant driving advice of some sort. Now the road, more than the Seahawks, held my attention. 
  Cresting the summit we saw four cars ahead had spun out and collided. I slowed and gave everyone a wide berth, especially on the 3,600-foot-long Denny Creek Viaduct. Snow gave way to sleet and then rain, so soon after we reached the Tinkham Road exit and level ground I sped up to 70.
   Reminder No. 2: Experts say to watch for deer October through December, their breeding and migrating season. If you see one deer, expect more since they usually travel in groups.
   Reminder No. 3: If a deer darts in front of you, brake hard but do not swerve. It’s better to hit a deer than lose control and perhaps roll your vehicle.
   I write about that kind of stuff for PEMCO all the time. And apparently, I don’t heed my own prose.
   The Seahawks had beaten the Buccaneers 27-24 in overtime, and I listened intently to the postgame interviews. I was driving in the middle lane descending the long hill approaching North Bend. Suddenly a deer scurried across the right-hand shoulder and onto the freeway. I braked hard.
    Within a second or two, my mind somehow likened the deer ahead with a receiver on the run: you throw the football not to where he is, but to the spot you expect him to be. My subconscious apparently calculated that, despite my braking, that deer would collide with us before I stopped.
   At the last second I veered to the left. Our front bumper missed the deer by mere feet.
   It was only then that I looked in my rear-view mirror to see if a car had been in the left lane. I’d never checked before swerving. Dumb luck spared me. Had a car been there, we could have collided. We might even have careened down the embankment toward the eastbound lanes of I-90.
   So, beginning drivers, do as I say and not as I do:

  • Pack chains and essentials when crossing the mountains November through March.
  • Drive extra cautiously as the temperature approaches 32°, especially on overpasses.
  • Watch for deer October through December, especially at dusk and dawn.
  • If a deer darts in front of you, brake hard but stay in your lane. Don’t swerve.

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Comments on this post

personJonathan 11/15/2013 01:35 PM
I remember my first winter as a driver in Utah.  It was pretty scary.  Even if you are confident in your driving abilities, there are other drivers around you who many not be that good. Thanks for the article!

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