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ABOUT DRIVING IN THE REAL WORLD

Driving in the Real WorldTM is currently a blog about driving safely and efficiently in the real world. Many driver's education programs, especially in the United States, do not adequately train people to properly handle the complex challenges of everyday driving. DITRWTM offers tips, techniques, and reflections on driving that will improve your on-the-road awareness and may even save your life. In future months, this blog will become part of a much larger website that will feature exciting apps, games, community forums, and a whole new way to learn about street driving.

My hope is to make our roads safer by making it socially unacceptable to be a bad driver. We need to rethink how we drive, how we teach it in America, and make safety and cooperation a far higher priority, but in fun, enjoyable, and practical ways. And many people don't realize this, but what makes you a better driver also improves you in many other parts of life.

Thank you for visiting. I invite readers to share their own experiences and reflections on driving, to suggest ideas for my upcoming book on the subject, and to follow me on Twitter (@DrivingReal).

—Mi Ae

 

Monday
Jul072014

25 Ways to a Dream Drivers Education Program

For the past several years I’ve been fantasizing. Big-time. No, not about whatever lewd thing may have just popped into your head, but about driver’s ed. 

Driver’s ed, you say? Bear with me—what if you could design a dream driver’s education program if time and money were no object? Not according to what parents are willing to pay for, what kids have time to learn, or the limitations of driver testing standards, but what drivers actually should know to safely navigate—and survive—today’s roads.

A revolutionary concept, indeed.

So here’s what my dream driver’s ed in America would include:

1. The system of car control.  In the United States, most driver’s ed covers the barest basics of driving—knowledge of traffic signs, rules of the road, the death-defying parallel parking maneuver, and how to go forward and backward without hitting anything. Overall it’s safe to say that the level of hazard perception and risk assessment taught in the US is a mere fraction of the UK’s system of car control, with its tightly prescribed methodology of information, position, speed, gear, and acceleration. 


2. How personality affects driving. One often overlooked aspect of driving is how people’s personalities affect their behavior on the road. It would be well worth an instructor’s time to interview their students and get a feel for their basic character traits before ever setting out behind the wheel. Are they confident and assertive, or more timid and insecure? Are they generally positive, or more negative? Do they feel entitled? What are their attitudes toward authority, sharing, courtesy, and cooperation? Do they have learning anxieties? Do they come from cultures significantly different from that in which they are getting their license? Regardless of the student’s age, such insight can reveal how a student might approach a risky situation or share the road with others—and help students and instructors alike recognize their potential strengths and weaknesses. 

3. Reading other drivers and vehicles. Traffic is full of clues as to what might happen if we just pay attention. Every driver and vehicle has a body language that reveals their likely path of travel or action, and learning how to read these signals (or anticipate what might happen at any given moment) can be one of the most often-used skills behind the wheel.

 

4. The real story about distractions. Sure, we hear about not texting or talking on the cell phone all the time. And they should be banned, period, except when the vehicle’s safely pulled off the road and not moving. But there are also the distractions of eating, talking with passengers, fiddling with the radio, getting sleepy, gawking at accident scenes, and plain old daydreaming.  It’s also not practical to tell students to not do any of these things—every driver will do them at some point regularly. It’s better to teach best practices on how to safely handle each of these distractions.

5. Stress reduction and relaxation techniques. Learning to drive can be extremely stressful. So is driving during bad weather conditions, in big cities and unfamiliar areas, and around unscrupulous motorists. Learning to ease mental and physical tension using deep breathing, relaxation, and even singing can be a surprising lifesaver—literally.

6. Night driving. Not every US driver’s ed program contains a night driving component. Reduced visibility is the obvious issue, but other challenges abound—increased animal activity, driver fatigue, intoxicated motorists and pedestrians, difficulty in detecting pedestrians and bicyclists, and a sometimes deadly sense of security triggered by miles of empty roads.

7. Highway driving. Highway driving in American driver’s ed is all about merging, keeping up with traffic, changing lanes, and exiting. Of course, mastering these skills is critical, but I would add that so are learning to read the rhythms of highway traffic, understanding traffic waves and how you can prevent congestion by maintaining adequate space cushions, lane discipline, watching for hazards presented by merge points, and constantly scanning for erratic drivers that can influence not only your path but the movements of everyone around you in turn.

8. Handling emergency situations. At some point in their driving career, regardless of how careful they may be, everyone is going to have to deal with a road emergency. It could be as simple as a flat tire or complex as a collision with another vehicle. It could be spinning out on a patch of black ice or being confronted by a tornado. Having some idea of what to do in these critical situations can be a matter of life or death. 

9. Using driver-assist technologies. Not a single driving instructor I have ever talked to on either side of the pond has directly addressed the myriad driver-assist technologies coming on board into vehicles. And I’m not talking about antilock brakes (ABS) or regular cruise control, but more advanced tech like variable cruise control, automatic braking, lane-departure warning, night vision, automatic parking, drowsiness detection, hill descent control, blind spot detection, and automated precrash systems. Given their increasing prevalence in cars today and tomorrow, it’s a disservice to today’s drivers to not acknowledge these systems. Pretending they don't exist is like telling teens to practice safe sex by abstinence; better to openly acknowledge this topic and have a constructive discussion about their advantages and limitations.

10. Being a better pedestrian and bicyclist. Plenty of bad drivers abound, but many pedestrians don’t help themselves either, especially when they walk around texting, fail to look both ways before crossing the street, wear dark clothing, walk on the wrong side of the road, needlessly make themselves the focus of target fixation, wander in front of driveway and parking lot entrances without looking, and generally act like dorks. The same holds true for bicyclists, especially those who run red lights, slap cars in crosswalks, and generally treat vehicular traffic as adversaries. Sharing the road takes cooperation and respect from all users, not just drivers. And all drivers are pedestrians at some point.

11. Using GPS. Modern turn-by-turn navigation systems are a godsend, eliminating the need for very distracting paper map handling. But interacting with electronic navigation aids can be quite distracting in themselves, and there is no substitute for common sense. There is a time to follow what your GPS tells you—and not. And sometimes it’s easy to forget that driving your vehicle safely always takes precedence, no matter what.

12. Basics of wayfinding, including how to read a map. No one loves turn-by-turn GPS more than I, and they are very helpful in navigating unfamiliar terrain more safely. But I also believe that we’re slowly becoming sheep, content to be blindly led while never having to really pay attention to where we’re going. In the process, we’re slowly losing (or perhaps the younger among us never really developed) our sense of direction. How many of us, bereft of our Tom-Tom or in-car GPS, could read a paper map? Could we figure out where we are, take note of the landmarks surrounding us, and have some sense of where to go unaided? Even with electronic systems, the ability to read a map on the screen in real-time and use it to figure out alternate routes in times of congestion or hazardous conditions is a terrific skill. 


13. Consequences of a collision. If learner drivers really knew the consequences of getting into a collision, they might be more careful. Most of us think that we will never get into a collision (and I deliberately use that term instead of “accident” as 95 percent of collisions are completely preventable), but the aftermath is well worth considering: the expense and inconvenience of getting your own and the other person’s vehicle (or vehicles) repaired, hiked-up insurance rates, penalties on your driving record, and possibly the worst yet, lifelong shame and guilt of possibly injuring—or even killing—someone else. Consider inviting law enforcement, emergency personnel, and even trauma physicians to speak—these are the people who witness and clean up the aftermath of such collisions every day. 

14. The road as seen by bicyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians. Have you ever noticed that when you’re behind the wheel, everyone else who is not seems out to get you? And when you’re not, it’s those damn drivers who are at fault—every one of ‘em! Switching the experience could go a long way in building empathy.

15. Sharing the road with big trucks. Speaking of empathy, every driver should climb behind the wheel of a big rig and see for themselves their unique limitations, especially in braking and visibility. Some American driving schools invite semi-truck drivers to speak to students or even have a big-rig on hand for demos.

16. Urban driving. Driving in a big city poses unique situations not encountered anywhere else. There are count-down lights, hordes of pedestrians, intense congestion, more stimuli than you ever imagined, an increased need for communication between drivers and other road users, maneuvering in tighter areas, distracting sights, and the unique hazards of double-parked vehicles and buses, to name a few. It’s enough to make a driver pull out their hair—or at least want to avoid the city altogether. It needn’t be that way—provided that the subject is broached constructively.

17. Driving and parking in tight spaces. Some drivers I’ve talked to describe bursting into tears after frustrating bouts in impossibly tight parking garages (often in big cities). And sometimes you find yourself in a tight squeeze, and you simply have no other choice. Learning to reverse and maneuver confidently in very close spaces (and yes, without rubbing or bumping into other vehicles) can pay off big dividends in self-confidence.

18. Driving in adverse weather conditions (snow, ice, rain, windstorms, tornadoes, flooding). This is one case where really high-end driving simulators are extraordinarily useful. Few instructors would want to take students out after a fresh snow or during high winds (and rightly so), but having students get a feel for how these conditions affect vehicle dynamics and physics—and correctly handling them—can be well worth it. If you do not have access to a simulator, at least build some good discussions around these situations.

19. Getting to know your vehicle. How many of us really know what our vehicles can (and can’t) do until we get in an emergency situation? Taking the time to drive in an empty parking lot on sunny, rainy, and even snowy days and practicing emergency braking, steering sharply, even doing donuts is a great way to become more familiar with your vehicle’s capabilities and limits.

20. Driving green. With all the attention on hybrids, electrics, and diesels these days, an often-overlooked fact is that any vehicle can become a greener one simply by driving it better. Driving for fuel efficiency—less brake, less throttle, smoother turns, more speed modulation, and rolling up to stops—all happily translate to better driving anyhow.

21. How to take care of your vehicle. When I attend tech sessions, I’m always astonished by how little people know about basic vehicle maintenance. And it’s not just women either … every driver should know how to check oil, transmission fluid, wiper fluid, and coolant levels; properly monitor their tire pressures; change wiper blades; jump batteries; how to change tires (or fix them if they’re run-flats); and safely charge electric vehicles.

22. How being a better driver makes you better in life. At first glance, this may sound funny. But think about it … looking up farther ahead, anticipating hazards, staying focused on the positive rather than the negative, not weaving about but staying on an even course, paying attention to your environment rather than your electronic device, and generally being a better observer of everything around you … what’s not to be gained when applied to your personal, professional, even financial life?

23. Road-tripping and traveling with children. One of the great joys in life is going on road trips. But there is an art to it, including packing, preparing the vehicle, dealing with roadside emergencies, staying alert while driving for very long stretches, and even napping in the car safely. Traveling comfortably with children, as well as properly installing and using car seats and other child restraint systems, are subjects unto themselves, perhaps not so interesting to younger learner drivers but surely useful for parents, babysitters, and caregivers.

24. First-aid basics. In some European countries, such as Germany, learning first-aid (including CPR) is a mandatory part of driver training. It’s just a good idea—you never know when you—or someone else—might need it.

25. Getting parents involved. Last but not least, parents of learner and novice drivers should be required to attend at least one session devoted to what they can do to help their children—and themselves—be better citizens of the road. I cannot stress enough that parents are role models for their genetic units, and most of them are quite unaware of just how strong their influence is.

If this all sounds like a lot, it’s because it is. But I also believe that if drivers were given a better-rounded picture of what driving actually involves, and taught in fun, engaging ways, it would go a long way toward changing our traffic safety culture over time. It also brings me to another topic that I’ll tackle next—that driving should be a lifelong learning experience, not just a one-time event in our adolescent years.

What are your thoughts? Do you teach any of these topics? And how? What would you like to see tackled in drivers ed? I would love to hear from you. Let me know by commenting below, or email me privately at miae@whatnowdesign.com. 

 

Monday
Apr212014

Why Are So Many People Running Red Lights?

With tax preparation time here in the States, it’s apparent that certain things in life are unavoidable. Taxes and death surely top the list. A polarized Congress is also a reality. But something else far more insidious is literally invading America’s streets—close calls with red-light runners.

In the simplest terms, red-light running simply means drivers are entering intersections just as or after their traffic lights turn red. This is different than drivers entering when a light is yellow and not making it completely through the intersection before the light turns red.

Over the past couple years, I’ve noticed a steady, dramatic increase in red-light runners, so much so that now I can’t walk or drive anywhere without seeing at least one, two, or even more during a single jaunt. In San Francisco and Seattle, I’ve observed the problem to be epidemic to the point that I believe it’s not a matter of if, but when I will be a victim of someone barreling through, in spite of always looking both ways before proceeding on my green.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that red-light running alone caused 683 deaths and a staggering 133,000 injuries in 2012. What’s even more remarkable is that, according to a NHTSA report, a full 97 percent of drivers feel that other drivers running red-lights are a major safety threat. Yet, from daily observation, I wonder if more than 3 percent of drivers are actually running red lights. Cognitive dissonance, anyone?

Why are more people running red lights? While I have not seen any studies on this, I venture to guess several reasons. As a society we’re increasingly goaded by a sense of artificial urgency cultivated by our technological connectedness. We struggle to keep up with ever-rising tides of email, calls, texts, and appointments. We allow ourselves to be carried by the belief that we have to hurry on to the next thing or get to the next place as fast as possible. The fact that we are often distracted by our cell phones behind the wheel only compounds this.

Permissiveness and entitlement have been creeping in as well. In the age of the selfie, the “me” generation, and competitive reality-TV culture, social decorum and mutual respect have steadily eroded in favor of relentless self-interest. We’re always pushing ourselves, both figuratively and literally. I can make it, just once more this time.

At the same time, populations are increasing in our cities and suburban areas alike, and local infrastructure has not kept up. Roadways are more crowded, lights are not timed properly, and backups and wait times are increasing. Drivers feel more frustrated, and this irritation combines with urgency and entitlement to create a potent combination. Before you know it, the occasional push to make it last-moment through an intersection becomes a habit—a lethal one.

To dispel this dangerous practice, thousands of red-light cameras have been set up in many intersections in US cities. However, while they can be effective in bringing down violations (and thus accident and fatality rates), these cameras are often very controversial, as they’re seen by opponents as existing for the purpose of generating revenue. And in some cases, they may inadvertently promote unsafe behavior by motivating drivers to speed up or slam on their brakes to avoid penalties.

Whatever your opinion on red-light cameras, I ask you to consider a scenario less esoteric: What if people knew that every time they ran a red light, it meant that they were killing or injuring an innocent person for whom their side was green? Would that make them slow down, not take so many chances?

Before you dismiss this as being hysterical or extreme, consider this very real possibility. After all, it was reality for nearly 134,000 people in 2012.

 

Wednesday
Mar122014

Anatomy of a Collision


When one drives nearly 40,000 miles a year, it is often only a matter of time before the inevitable happens—an incident involving an unlicensed driver, bent metal, second-guessing, and a tricky car insurance situation.

In late January I was in my hometown of San Francisco on a work retreat. This beautiful city’s steep hills, difficult sightlines, gawking tourists, diverse population, and intense congestion make driving an act of pure faith at times. One curious aspect is that it has hundreds, if not thousands, of four-way-stop intersections in its residential areas.

Last Wednesday I was driving my BMW and I arrived at one of these intersections. I was chatting with a friend riding in the front passenger seat, and as I pulled up to a stop, I noted a dark blue Chevy Tahoe to my right. My impression was that I arrived a second or less before the Tahoe, and my last clear memory was of us both sitting stopped at our respective signs.

I proceeded first. We were in the middle of the intersection when both my passenger and I realized the Tahoe was heading straight for us—and he wasn’t slowing down. The moment was paradoxically both swift and slow-motion—a truly surreal sensation like in the movies. I lifted my foot off the throttle but had no time to brake as we both braced for impact. Meanwhile the Tahoe driver had direct eye contact with my passenger, looking right at—or maybe through—him.

An SUV and a car are no match for each other, even at 10 mph. Tahoe wins, BMW loses. The point of impact was my right front corner and fender, but my entire hood was pushed up and backward.

His damage was mainly to his left front bumper, a black plastic undercarriage piece, and a punctured washer fluid reservoir tank. No airbags went off in either vehicle.

A man driving by thrust a piece of paper into my hand with his name and phone number, offering to be a witness. A cop passing the scene inquired if anyone was hurt, but in California, police do not get involved unless there are injuries. We all said we were fine and he sped off. I snapped some pictures and then we pulled off to a safer place on the side of the street.

A woman and a beautiful toddler girl emerged from the Tahoe, and I asked repeatedly if anyone was hurt. Everyone said no, and the woman smiled sweetly. We each called our respective insurance companies and started gathering information. The Tahoe driver was Hispanic and knew very little English. Communication was going to be a problem. Fortunately a pedestrian stopped to inquire what was going on, and he turned out to be bilingual, so he served as a translator.

The Tahoe driver was apparently the registered owner of vehicle and had insurance, but he said he had no driver’s license. Immediately I wondered how one can obtain insurance without a license (but apparently certain kinds of Mexican ID are sufficient, although I don’t know if that was the case in our situation).

He also adamantly maintained he had had the right of way.

Questions, questions …

When repiecing an event, second-guessing and selective memory are constant banes. A four-way stop can be a tricky thing in itself. How many times have you come up to a four-way stop when other vehicles were present and made a quick judgment call as to who got there first, but you were distracted just enough to have your full cognitive attention clouded at that critical moment?

Then you proceed quickly, only to realize that someone else really had gotten there first but you didn’t actually see them, and it was rightfully their turn? How many times have you found yourself in this situation and “gotten away with it”?

It’s happened to all of us.

Naturally I kept replaying in my mind what had happened. Was it possible it really had been this guy’s turn? The timing would have been very close indeed. We might have both arrived at the same time, in which case he would have had the right of way because he was on my right. Because I have an above-average interest in driving safety, I believe I pay above-average attention to these things. But I had been talking with my passenger at that moment. Could that have distracted me just enough?

Had the other driver been just as distracted with the woman and the toddler girl as I had been with my passenger and erred with the timing at the stop sign too? That could easily be the case. But we definitely had traveled into the intersection first. Why didn’t he see us? That could easily be the case. But we definitely had traveled into the intersection first …

Why didn’t he stop or at least slow down? And he and my passenger were looking straight at each other the whole time. Did our presence not register until it was too late? Could he have even deliberately run into us with the intent of collecting insurance money? Some people make a living of sorts creating fraudulent claims. Or was he simply a bad driver, who, in spite of looking at us, didn’t actually see us until it was too late? As motorcyclists and bicyclists well know with vehicles, looking does not equate seeing—as in mentally registering.

“He said,” “She said”

I have studied enough cognitive science to know what an abject failure the human memory can be in these situations. I told my insurance adjuster what I knew and didn’t know. He spoke with the angry Tahoe driver, who threatened to take me to court if he was found at fault. With no traffic cameras or recorded info, it was rapidly dissolving into a “he said, she said” situation. Then my adjuster spoke with the witness who had given me his contact info. While he didn’t see who had stopped first at the intersection, he did confirm that we were already in the intersection when the Tahoe struck us. The insurance company ruled that the incident was not my fault.

At this point the Tahoe driver went hopping mad and kept insisting to my insurance company his intent to sue me. I sincerely hope not to hear from him. I’m eternally grateful to the witness. My car remained in the autobody shop getting repaired to the tune of nearly $13,000. But the most important part is that no one was hurt in the least. Vehicles can always be fixed, humans not so easily.

Sometimes the most dangerous part about being an accident is the way one drives afterward. Anyone who’s been in an accident can relate to the feeling that immediately following one, the world seems far more sinister, that everyone is out to get you. That can result in a hesitancy that’s equally dangerous and disruptive in an urban environment. It takes a while to get one’s self-confidence back.

But an incident like this is a good reminder of how important it is to be mindful every possible moment. And take your time at stop signs.

 

Monday
Dec232013

23 Winter Driving Tips They Don’t Tell You About: Part 3

This is the third and final part of a 3-part series on winter driving tips that are often not mentioned or discussed in enough depth.

17.  Clear snow and ice off your vehicle before you start driving. Most winter driving tips include this one. But it is mind-boggling how many folks neglect to clear their back windows, mirrors, or even their side windows, leaving them essentially driving blind. Not to mention the huge piles of snow off their roofs, hoods, and deck lids, which often blow off in chunks in the most inopportune moments to the detriment of those traveling behind them. And if you see a vehicle that has not been properly cleaned off, assume that its driver may not see you—and watch out for it accordingly.

18.  Drive your own path, not that of others. One well-intentioned tip sometimes offered is to drive in the tracks of the vehicle in front of you if fresh snow is falling, to take advantage of slightly better traction and to use the tracks as a guide. While this can indeed be helpful, the problem is that it tends to cause your eyes to drop to the space right in front of you to follow the tracks—and not up way ahead down the road where you should be looking. It also can lead you to unwittingly repeat whatever errors the vehicles ahead are committing—improper lane positioning, even veering off the road. Avoid blindly following others.

19.  Keep your wheel wells cleared. Some cars are prone to significant snow buildup inside the wheel wells, especially at highway speeds. The snow can accumulate to the point that the extra unbalanced weight causes the vehicle to shimmy or wobble, similar to a flat tire. Always keep a long-handled tool such as a shovel or sturdy snowbrush with an ice scraper handy in the car for scooping out this extra snow.

20.  Get around snowplows and big trucks—but give them enough room. There’ll be times, especially on highways, when you will need to pass snowplows and semi-tractor trailers, or they’ll want to get around you. Such huge vehicles often travel slowly and kick up enormous amounts of blinding snow, which make seeing and passing them very tricky. The key is to give them plenty of room. Don't zoom right up behind them, then shoot out sideways into their snow clouds to pass them. A surprising number of snowplow-vehicle collisions occur on American roads, usually the result of inattentive or impatient drivers.

  • Never attempt to pass a snowplow on the right; newer plow technology uses wider wings that can clear both the lane of travel and the shoulder simultaneously. Billowing snow clouds can prevent a driver attempting to pass on the right from seeing this blade until it’s too late.
  • Plan your passing early and carefully—starting as much as a quarter mile behind to give these vehicles a wide berth. Wait to pass until you see that the left lane is reasonably clear of major ice and snow that could interfere with your vehicle’s tracking during the passing phase. And never pass on the crest of a hill or any place with a limited sightline.
  • During the actual passing, stay as far away from the snowplow or semi truck as possible but not so far as to risk veering off the road or shoulder. Keep your speed cautious but steady—hesitation and quick acceleration are not your friends today. With big trucks you may feel a draft coming off them that can sway your vehicle a bit as you pass, and there’ll be a few moments when you can’t see the road with the snow cloud, but don’t be afraid and don’t panic. Taking a deep breath and exhaling forcefully in these moments can help you relax.
  • After passing, the worst thing you can do is slip right back directly in front of big trucks and snowplows. They can’t stop as quickly as you can in dry weather—what makes you think they can in worse conditions? 

21.  Don’t use cruise control and keep both hands on the wheel. By now it should be pretty obvious why.

22.  Get winter tires. If you live in or anticipate driving regularly in areas with icky winter weather, one of the best safety investments you can make is to get winter or snow tires. The two are slightly different—snow tires have less highway stability and are noisier but have better ice traction than their winter tire counterparts. But both differ from regular all-season tires in that they’re made with softer rubber compounds that don’t become as hard and rigid in very cold temperatures, they have different tread designs that “bite” better in snow and ice, and they tend to be wider. In fact, a quality winter or snow tire on a front-wheel drive car can make it just as good as an all-wheel drive vehicle. And winter tires paired with an AWD or 4WD vehicle can make an almost unbeatable combination. Since I started using winter tires five years ago, I’ve really noticed the difference at both low and high speeds. Studded tires, however, are less advisable, unless you live in really extreme conditions. They destroy asphalt and can actually make stopping more dangerous on regular pavement.

23.  Take a winter driving clinic. Some car clubs, automakers, and motoring organizations offer winter and ice driving clinics where, with the help of qualified instructors, you can practice emergency braking, slalom steering, drifts, slides, and skids. This is a great opportunity to get a feel for how your vehicle behaves on less-than-ideal surfaces before an emergency situation arises, and they can be a whole lot of fun as well. The lessons learned in these clinics can save your life. But a word of caution: Don’t get too overconfident as a result. Remember, always drive for the conditions, know the limits of yourself and your vehicle, and don’t underestimate the risks.

Do you have any other winter driving thoughts or tips to share? Questions? I'd love to hear them. Continue the conversation by commenting below or emailing me directly at miae@whatnowdesign.com.

Have a safe, happy holiday and New Year!

 

Monday
Dec232013

23 Winter Driving Tips They Don’t Tell You About: Part 2

 This is the second part of a 3-part series on winter driving tips that are often not mentioned or discussed in enough depth.

9.  In an emergency, minimize the time spent out of your vehicle. One of the biggest tragedies is people getting injured, killed, disoriented, or lost when they step out of their vehicles during winter emergencies. In huge multicar pileups recently in the US on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, numerous people got out to help other motorists, inspect damage, or take pictures; at least one person was struck and killed by another vehicle. In the case of the Wisconsin pileup, stunning video footage shows people running out of the way with vehicles swerving to avoid them. And an Illinois groom died on his wedding night when he stopped to help a woman who’d slid off a snowy road. Both he and the woman were killed when they were struck by not one but three cars whose drivers simply did not see them. State patrol advise that if you’re stranded or see someone in trouble, it’s best to stay in your vehicle and call for help. Frequently at collision or emergency scenes, motorists experience what’s known as “target fixation”; by staring at people or disabled vehicles too long, such drivers may unwittingly head right for them. After all, you tend to steer in the direction you’re looking. And in the case of blinding snowstorms, people walking to seek help can become quickly disoriented and frostbitten. Always stay in your car for your safety and so that emergency personnel can locate you easier.
 
10.  Turn on your flashers to warn others of sudden slowdowns. Briefly turning on your emergency flashers to alert drivers behind you of a sudden slowdown or problem up ahead can help provide valuable warning time. This is actually a tactic used frequently in Europe but seldom seen in the United States. Every little bit helps, especially if motorists behind you are going too fast for conditions or visibility is poor.
 
11.  Control your speed. It is almost always mentioned in winter driving tips to reduce your speeds in snowy and icy conditions. But this excellent advice goes deeper than that. You can actually travel quite fast safely in a straight line on ice and snow and be fine—as long as you don't have to stop or turn. It’s awfully hard to beat physics, and American motorists are especially poor at driving appropriately for conditions (this video footage shows how a 40-car pileup in Wisconsin started precisely because motorists were going too fast). In bad weather, always go more slowly than you think is necessary, maintain the maximum distance between you and other vehicles, and keep your eyes up as far ahead as possible to anticipate hazards.
 
12.  Don’t travel at night. It can be very dangerous to travel in darkness in bad winter weather. You can’t see ice or changing road surfaces as well; falling snow can be disorienting blowing into headlights; lane markings or even where the edges of the road lie can be impossible to discern without other visual cues. And while dense fog and blowing snow can extremely treacherous during the day, they’re even more so at night. We are also biologically programmed to become more fatigued as darkness falls, further hindering our judgment. In these cases, better to be safe than sorry—and wait until daylight.
 
13.  Coping with extreme temperatures. Single-digit and below-zero temps call for special tactics:

  • Use windshield washer fluid rated for temperatures of –30; this will help keep the fluid from freezing in your reservoir tank, in the wiper nozzles, and on your windshield. Prestone makes a good formula that’s a combination de-icer, washer, and dirt repellant.
  • When filling up your vehicle, don't leave the gas pump unattended to run inside the convenience station; below-zero temps can cause the automatic shut-off pumps to jam—and gasoline spurting out all over the place.
  • Always keep gloves and extra clothing in the car; a sleeping bag rated for negative temps that can be stored compactly in a compression sack is also a good idea in case you get stranded.
  • Keep your gas tank at least half-full at all times to avoid condensation issues. It also provides fuel in case you get stuck and need to keep the heater going.
  • Check your tire air pressure frequently. The colder the temperature, the faster they tend to go down.
  • If you live in an area that regularly gets below zero and don't have sheltered parking, you might consider installing an engine block heater that can be plugged in at home or your workplace for easier starts.
  • But note that today’s modern vehicles do not require significant idling to warm up—in fact it can even harm them. A maximum of 30 seconds, even in the coldest temps, is all that’s needed.

14.  Minimize braking and acceleration. Great driving is all about properly managing time, weight, and space. This is especially true in bad winter conditions:

  • Don’t brake if you don’t have to. Slow down early enough to roll up to a traffic light change without having to brake completely. If you do need to stop or slow down, start braking early and gently to keep yourself and others behind you in control.
  • If a traffic light does change quickly, make a swift judgment call whether it’s really safe to stop—remember that vehicles behind you may not be able to halt in time in these conditions, and it may just be safer for you to go on through the intersection.
  • Keep your acceleration gentle and to a minimum—if you hit the gas too much on snow and ice, you’ll just spin your wheels and possibly go into a skid or a slide.
  • Use your vehicle’s momentum and time your gear changes to minimize braking and acceleration. If you’re in hilly terrain, let gravity work for you on the downhill, but try not to stop on an uphill—you’ll lose momentum and start sliding backward.
  • Give yourself as much space as possible between you and other vehicles. Remember, everything takes a lot longer to happen on slippery roads!

15.  To pull off or not? And where? Sometimes a driver needs or wants to pull off because of an emergency, fatigue, nerves, lack of visibility, or changing conditions. But this is often a judgment call depending on the location, conditions, and level of traffic. If you’re traveling up a hill or in a place with narrow shoulders, or there’s a lot of traffic going by, it may be safer for you and others to just keep going rather than pull off—and risk an accident trying to get back on again. If you need to pull off a highway or interstate during a blinding snowstorm, try to find a ramp with an overpass under which you can park temporarily. The overpass will provide shelter and keep your car clearer of snow.
 
16.  Use your thermometer. Many modern vehicles show the external temperature on the dashboard. Use this information to your advantage to tell if conditions are above or right around freezing, or if temps are dropping to the point that ice may be forming. Keep in mind that the temperature displayed may not truly reflect what’s happening on the ground, especially if the road surface has been salted or de-iced, is shaded or unprotected, or if traffic has been grinding ice and frost away. But this extra info can provide very handy clues as to whether driving conditions may be changing quickly.