Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 16, 2014

Rise and shine: Prevent mishaps with extra time on wintry mornings


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — I really need to get a new pair of shoes. Wednesday morning I was walking down the stairs leading up the deck to my apartment when I felt that awful, floating sensation that indicates you’ve lost your traction. A fine dusting of slick snow had covered the wooden stairs overnight, and that was no good for soles worn smooth. I’ve worn these old shoes for years, but the miles have taken their toll. Like a set of tires losing their treads, they’ve got to go.

When I saw the snowy morning, my first thought was of crashes. We normally have at least some classic fender benders on a snowy morning. This prediction proved true when I arrived at work. A tractor-trailer had skidded out and blocked a road in Tazewell County, and some other minor accidents had been reported across the region.

It’s a time when people in a hurry and bad weather come together to create a recipe for crashes. I’m just as bad as everyone else. I’ll look out my windows first thing in the morning and see snow on the ground and sometimes on the roads, but I don’t pick up the pace and give myself more time. I walk out to my car the same time as usual and learn that I’ve got to warm up the car, brush off snow and apply a scraper to my windows.

The subject of giving yourself enough time to get reach your destination safely came up when I was doing the morning police checks. A reporter with the morning shift calls the local 911 centers and law enforcement agencies to see if anything is happening.

Sgt. J. Centeno at the West Virginia State Police Princeton detachment said the troopers had handled several sliding accidents that morning. The cause was the usual problem: Drivers going too fast for road conditions.

Centeno said trooper were encouraging people to think ahead and avoid the temptation to drive too fast on slick roads. First, check the weather forecasts to see what conditions might be like the coming morning. If snow or other bad weather is predicted, plan on rising earlier and giving yourself some more time to get to work or school.

Try to keep vehicles in garages or under shelters if possible. If, like me, you don’t have one, give yourself more time to get your car ready. That’s what I should have done Wednesday morning. Fortunately, a quick brushing and my car’s heaters took care of the windows, but I was lucky. There have been other occasions when I had to get out a snow shovel and work hard with a scraper just to get my car on the road.

Once you get on the road, try to resist the temptation to drive at your normal speed. If the roads are icy, I slow down accordingly and put more space between myself and other cars. I learned this go slow approach the hard way. I still remember my first real snow accident.

Back in the late 1980s, I was working for a weekly newspaper in Kanawha County. The paper, the Montgomery Herald, was in Montgomery. I was still living in South Charleston with my parents, so I made the commute every day in my first car.

Well, one morning there was a heavy snowstorm. I joined a long line of cars and slowly plodded my way to work. To this day, I don’t know exactly what happened. Suddenly I was spinning and going backwards down an embankment.

Fortunately, the embankment wasn’t too steep and I didn’t fall too far. I came to rest, the engine stalled, and I sat there stunned for a moment. One woman paused and asked if I was all right, and I gave her the thumbs up and a smile.

To my own amazement, I got my car started and actually got back on the road. I was lucky. If I had gone off the road any other place, it would have been a different story. I really wasn’t going very fast; in fact, I was crawling. This still didn’t prevent a mishap. If I had been going faster, it would have been a very serious mishap.

My Dad shared his experiences with me and schooled me about what my car could and could not do. Centeno recommended that drivers know what their vehicles are capable of doing when bad weather arrives. All of my cars have had rear-wheel drive, and that makes a big difference in the snow. Rear-wheel drives are not as good. Four-wheel drive is good, but it doesn’t mean you can go anywhere and keep driving as fast as you did last summer. There’s a joke that says four-wheel drive lets you get stuck in more inaccessible places.

I’ll try to use my experience and get ready for work sooner when snow is on the ground. I’ve been lucky, but forethought can stretch your luck and makes an early morning crash less likely. I want to get to work on time like everybody else, but you’re definitely going to be late or not arrive at all if you’re in a crash. The possible pain, damage to your car, repair bills, and more expensive insurance isn’t worth the rush. Getting out of bed an hour or half an hour earlier can really make a difference in your winter day.

Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.