How to Stay Safe on the Way to Starbucks: Driving Tips for SUA Girls

by NORA ZACHARISKI '15

It’s that time of year again. The sky turns cloudy and gray, and temperatures drop. Suddenly, the miserable rain turns to fluffy white snow, gently covering the world in white. Unfortunately, the roads are blanketed too, along with some people’s sense of what constitutes “safe” or “logical” driving. But the first snowflake doesn’t have to strike fear into every girl who has her license. Here are some tips for keeping safe this winter on the roads.

1. Visibility is a priority. Make sure that your windshield wipers are in good shape and that you always have plenty of windshield wiper fluid. Also, always turn your wipers off before you turn off your car. Water usually freezes overnight during the winter, and if your windshield wipers freeze to the windshield, your car might try to get them back to their original position, even though they are frozen. Consequently, your windshield motor could burn out, leaving you with an unpleasant burning smell, a foggy windshield, and a new bill for a new wiper motor.

2. Be familiar with your car. Before you start driving on the roads this winter, you should know what your car is and isn’t capable of doing. What kind of tires do you have? Do you have rear-wheel, front-wheel, full-time four-wheel, part-time four-wheel or all-wheel drive? What’s the difference? Well, the differences are key to safe winter operation.

With rear-wheel drive (RWD), your engine sounds power to only the back tires, and with front wheel (FWD), it powers only the front two tires. The general thought is that RWD gets better acceleration, better braking, and better control in dry conditions. But, RWD suffers from less traction in snow and ice, and if you brake particularly hard, the steering is not as dependable. Often owners of RWD cars put extra weight in their trunks or backseats to glue the tires to the road more in winter.

FWD can allow for more front-loaded weight distribution and bring more traction than rear drive in snow.

With four-wheel drive (4WD), cars do not have something called a “center differential," but with all-wheel drive (AWD) they dos. Basically, 4WD sends power to all 4 wheels equally when the accelerator is pushed. AWD's center differential and traction sensors send power to wheels that have traction and minimize or cut power to spinning wheels.

Knowing if you have any of these tools can help you know how soon you need to stop, or how much gas to give when you’re pulling out in the hectic afterschool rush.

Another contributing factor is tires. Know what type of tires you have, and how well they do in snow, along with what type of traction they get. If your tires aren’t the best, ask your dad if you can take his car instead.

3. Go slowly and be conscious of your brakes. Yes, I know this one is obvious, and I know your parents have said it a million times. But if you think about it, your tires aren’t really touching the winter road when you’re driving, they’re touching the snow. And snow is very unpredictable, so is the ice that can be hidden menacingly underneath it. Snow also makes it really hard to tell how long you are going to need to stop. Normally, it’s recommended that you leave a following distance of 3 to 4 seconds, but AAA recommends that you increase this to 8 to 10 in wintry conditions. Before starting off to school, make sure you know what kind of brakes you have (anti-locking or not) and how they work in the snow. “Fender bender” is not what you want to be writing down on your tardy slip in February.

4. Be prepared. So the Girl Scout motto is starting to get a little old. And while we all may roll our eyes when our parents tell us to keep a flashlight or something in our cars, it can really pay off in the end. You should always have a blanket in your car (which can come in handy in the morning when its super chilly too), along with a flashlight and batteries, and maybe a candle and matches if the weather is super cold. But it also pays to know what to do in emergency situations. Luckily our teachers are looking out for us in this aspect. This past fall, the freshman class at Freshman Bonding Day was taught a rather different skill than we are used to learning in school: how to change a tire. Mr. Simcoe walked the girls through the process step-by-step, jacking up the car and chaining the tire for them, so that they could see how simple it really is. When asked why he walked the girls through this activity he said that changing a tire is a vital life skill that he believes a people need to know, not only for practical purposes but also for the sake of self-sufficiency. Changing a tire is indeed a vital life skill, and can come in handy when you least expect it. You can do it, without AAA or dad. Regardless of whether you need to utilize these skills and supplies or not, it always pays to be prepared.

So run out and do those holiday shopping trips, and those before and/or after school Starbucks runs this winter. Just make sure that when you do you have a clear view, leave plenty of time, drive carefully over the snowy roads, and always have an extra blanket on hand. But a warm Peppermint Mocha won’t hurt either.