The Slippery Sierra

After watching someone take a curve a little too fast after this latest storm and take out a group of willows, it seems like a good time to remind people about winter driving. Winter driving can be a bit of a challenge with snow and ice.

Tailgating   The first, second, and third thing to remember is “DON’T TAILGATE!!!”.  Seriously, don’t tailgate.  This is not the smooth streets of the city.  When there is weather, especially ice, it takes 4 times as long to stop as it would on a dry surface.  And sometimes on ice, you can’t stop until you run into something.  Is that really how you want to spend your vacation, dealing with a damaged vehicle and insurance people?  So just slow it down a bit.  Give yourself, and the car in front of you, some space.

The Berm    When the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) clears the streets, they push the snow into the middle of the road, into the left turn lane.  This creates a berm.  When all the streets are cleared, which takes awhile, CalTrans comes back and removes the snow from the middle.  We HIGHLY recommend not trying to cross the berm if you have to turn left.  One of our main sources for entertainment in the winter is watching people trying to cross the berm, getting high centered, and then they’re stuck.  So are the cars behind them as they still block the road.  So please, just go to the next light and make a u-turn.  None of your friends will remember the u-turn, but they will never let you forget getting high centered.

Speed Limit     When it’s snowing, there is a practice called ‘driving for the conditions’.  Or to be blunt, ‘SLOW DOWN’.  The roads are slick, the visibility is poor and in order to make it from here to there, it is best to just slow down.  Usually, but not always, a good speed is 30 – 35 miles an hour.  Having said that, it is also easy to drive too slow.  Just as in maintaining the speed limit, driving too slow can be dangerous as it causes everything to back up, creating a potential for a multiple vehicle accident.  Try to stay with the flow of traffic.  If that makes you uncomfortable, pull off the road, into a parking lot or something, and let everyone go by.

Ice     Ice can kill you.  Don’t think because you have all wheel drive, you can win over ice.  You won’t because ice doesn’t respect all wheel drive.  You will still slide.  It has more respect for chains, cables or studded snow tires.

Stopping (or not)  Again, it takes longer to stop on ice and snow.  But when you’re stopping, don’t slam on the brakes.  This is not the time to try stopping at the very last minute.  Slamming on the brakes at the last minute is a great way to go into a skid.  The best way to stop while there is snow on the road is to lightly tap your brakes.  Slow the car down and then apply pressure to the brakes.  It takes time to do this so again, this is a good reason to not tailgate.

Slippery stuff   Because of our temperate winters, snow in the Sierras usually has a high moisture content, making it very slippery.  As a result, it’s earned the affectionate nickname of ‘sierra snot’.  Charming.  There’s also something called ‘sierra cement’ but that’s for another blog.  Anyway, it’s slippery.  Colorado snow, on the other hand, is usually very dry and that makes for easier snow driving.  Here in California, the snow is slippery and can take your car off the road with little effort.  It is for this reason CalTrans sets up road blocks at the bottom of Echo Summit, ensuring that cars are either 4 wheel drive, all wheel drive, or are carrying chains.  They are trying to prevent accidents at the top of the summit.  It gets like a roller derby if drivers aren’t prepared.  CalTrans has a website so check it before heading to Tahoe. Click here for more info.

Don’t tailgate. Slow down. Don’t try to beat the berm. Bottom line, (really) be prepared.