Driving in the Real WorldTM is a change agent for driving safely and efficiently in the real world. Many driver's education programs, especially in the United States, do not adequately train people in hazard perception, risk management, and proper handling of the complex challenges of everyday driving. Through its blog, social media, and upcoming subscription newsletter, DITRWTM offers tips, techniques, and reflections on driving that will improve your situational awareness and may even save your life and that of others.

There is an enormous need to make our roads safer by making it socially unacceptable to be a bad driver in America, regardless of the cause. We must completely rethink how we drive and how we teach it, and then make the driving test something to actually be respected. Driver's ed should also be a lifelong learning process. And I believe that this can be achieved in much more fun, enjoyable, and experiential ways than it is often presented now.

Many people don't realize this, but what makes you a better driver also improves you in many other areas of life. This involves honest self-examination of our core values as both a society and the individuals that constitute it, and truly making the necessary changes to improve our attitudes on the road.

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

—Mi Ae



It’s Not Just Alcohol Anymore: More Teens Are Driving Drugged

This post was co-written with Candace Lightner, President of We Save and founder of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

Every time you get on the road, chances are good that you’re seeing drivers of all ages under the influence. Not necessarily on alcohol, but on drugs—both illicit and perfectly legal. Although the dangers of drinking and driving are well-known, the effect of drugs is less publicized—and potentially far more lethal, given the numbers.

Consider these sobering facts:

  • Car crashes are the number one cause of death for teens. 
  • Every day, on average, 2,500 teens use prescription drugs to get high for the first time, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
  • According to a 2011 National Institute on Drug Abuse Survey, nearly 1 in 6 high school seniors who responded reported that, within the past 2 weeks, they had driven a motor vehicle after using an illicit drug or drinking heavily.
  • In the same survey, nearly 1 in 4 had recently ridden in a car with such a driver. Altogether 28 percent had put themselves at risk in the past 2 weeks by being in a vehicle whose driver had been using marijuana or another illicit drug, or had drunk 5 or more alcoholic drinks. These rates had all risen nearly 20 percent in only 4 years, due almost entirely to an increase in driving after smoking marijuana.
  • According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s 2014 Monitoring the Future survey, which measures alcohol and drug use among over 41,000 American 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, 27 percent of all survey participants used illicit drugs, 6 percent had abused prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and over 37 percent of high-school seniors had ingested alcohol in the previous year.

So why do teens use drugs? For the same reasons that adults often do—to regulate their mood, stay alert, lose weight, cope with everyday life, or just have fun. Teens abuse a variety of drugs, such as alcohol; prescription medications; inhalants; over-the-counter cough, cold, and sleep medications; marijuana, cocaine, opiates, heroin, PCP, and designer drugs such as Ecstasy.

How do these drugs affect driving? Many drugs have similar effects on our cognitive and motor skills as alcohol, by impairing judgment, concentration, vision, and sense of risk-taking, which can lead to overconfidence, hallucinations, and unpredictable behavior. This turns especially deadly if a person ingests more than one drug at a time or also consumes alcohol, since drug interactions vary widely by individual. 

Driving under the influence of marijuana can be just as dangerous as driving under the influence of other drugs. Most teens (and adults) think they drive more carefully after they use marijuana. But they don’t—using marijuana nearly doubles the risk of a vehicle collision, even though drivers don’t regard cannabis use to be as detrimental as alcohol.

If you need more proof, read the story of the young teenager from New York City who killed four of his friends while driving high. The fact that he was traveling at more than 100 miles an hour when he crashed into a tree hardly bodes well for driving more carefully. This young man will spend the next 5 to 15 years incarcerated as a result of his dangerous and deadly behavior. The victims’ families will spend a lifetime mourning their loved ones.

What’s more, teens who regularly use marijuana are more likely to become addicted to it than adults. And research is finding that even occasional marijuana use in adolescence may actually change brain function and lower IQ.

Why is drugged driving so dangerous for teens? Drugged driving is lethal for any age, but especially so for teens aged 16 to 19, for whom vehicle collisions are already the leading cause of death. Their natural overconfidence, feelings of invincibility, lack of experience, and vulnerability to social pressure is a potent cocktail for tragedy.

Which brings us to the hard questions—what can we do to help teens drive responsibly, as parents, friends, family, classmates, teachers, physicians, and counselors?

  • Be a good role model. Do your teens see you take illegal drugs or prescription medications, then get behind the wheel? We are role models for our children, and we cannot expect them to act differently than we do.
  • Hold off on letting them get their license until you are sure they are mature and responsible enough to handle a two-ton weapon.
  • Educate them about the law and the penalties. It is against the law to drive under the influence of drugs and not just alcohol, even in a state where marijuana is allowed. These penalties can be steep, so let your teen know this isn’t a minor offense.
  • Let them know that drugged driving is as dangerous as drinking and driving. Many teens believe that it is safer to drive under the influence of drugs than alcohol.
  • Emphasize that drugged driving is a choice. If they make the mistake of taking drugs or if they have a drug problem, they need to refrain from driving—or face the consequences.
  • Offer to drive them home without penalty if they ever feel that driving is a risk for themselves or if riding with someone else is dangerous.
  • Ask them to take the pledge to drive alcohol- and substance-free.
  • Take the car keys away if you suspect irresponsible behavior. Remember, you are the parent, and you have a lot more control than you think. It’s up to you to leverage that power and remind your child that driving is a privilege, not a right. Emphasize that you care about their safety and that of other innocent drivers on the road.
  • You can never start the discussion too early. Many parents feel awkward talking to their children about drug use. But the average age of first marijuana use is 14, and alcohol use can start before the age of 12. Kids have easier access than ever to both legal and illegal drugs from classmates and family members. Broaching the subject as early as kindergarten and having regular, friendly conversations about it sends the message that you care—and that you’re keeping an eye on them.
  • Attend a drug-prevention event. Many law enforcement agencies put on free or low-cost community seminars to increase public awareness of drugged driving as well as offer prevention tips. Ask your local police or school about such events.
  • Stay involved. As much as adolescents tend to push adults away, letting them know that you are interested and staying active in their lives is crucial. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to get nosy about who they hang out with (or ride in other vehicles with), even if you get yelled at. Teens are often more grateful for adult guidance and involvement than they let on.

We can never protect our children 100 percent, and when your teen starts driving, sleepless nights can become a habit. However, there are things we can do as parents to help keep our children safe; the most important is to show them how much we love them by providing boundaries and guidance as continue their journey into adulthood.



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 



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.



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, Bimmer 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? Why didn’t he stop or at least slow down? 

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 in a collision is the way one drives afterward. Anyone who’s been in one 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.



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

Have a safe, happy holiday and New Year!