By Emma Davitt
Champlain Valley Union High School
Driving in the winter is an obstacle that everyone in Vermont has to live with. Every day in the winter, Vermonters inevitably have to deal with freezing temperatures, icy roads and snowy driveways.
According to Weather.com, “The best advice for driving in bad winter weather is not to drive at all.” However, this advice is hard to follow considering that students and adults need to get to work and school every day.
Preparing your car to be driven on a cold winter morning is difficult and time consuming. It is best to keep one’s car in a garage, however, there are several things that should be done before driving if the car was kept outside over night. For example, before driving, one must take the time to scrape off any ice on the windshields and windows, and clear off all snow from the car. In addition to this, when the temperatures reach extreme lows, especially when they go below zero, it is important for one to start their car about five minutes before they are planning to drive in order to give the engine some time to warm up.
All of these activities take time, hence, it is extremely important that drivers plan accordingly and give themselves some extra time in their morning routine to make driving conditions safe.
Parker Dunn, a senior, has recognized that winter driving impacts his schedule. “I usually leave a little bit earlier or get here later if the weather is bad or snowy or really icy. Usually it just takes longer to get places,” he said.
Dunn continued to comment on his comfortability while driving in winter conditions, adding, “The first time [driving in the snow] I was really nervous and I thought the car would slide when there was any kind of snow at all… I was nervous that I was going to slide a lot but I’ve gotten better at knowing when I’m more likely to be in trouble from bad weather.”
In Vermont, a fine of $76 can be issued if there is obstruction of the driver’s view. Obstruction of the driver’s view includes having snow on one’s car that prevents the driver from being able to see clearly. Often referred to as “peephole” driving, drivers can get pulled over and fined if they are driving after only clearing off a minimum amount of snow so that they can just barely see.
New Hampshire enforces a law against leaving snow on your car and will fine an individual between $250 and $500 for their first offense and up to $1,000 for their second offense if one is driving with too much snow on their car. In comparison to New Hampshire, Massachusetts does not have a law against clearing snow off a car but state troopers can cite an individual for driving an unsafe vehicle which results in a smaller fine of about $50.
Cory Coffey, the Driver’s Ed teacher here at CVU, has been teaching Driver’s Ed for 10 years. He stresses the importance of driving slowly in the winter to his students, and offers numerous important pieces of advice when driving in the winter. Not only does Coffey highlight the importance of snow tires, but he also highly recommends that drivers have new windshield wiper blades, a snow brush, an ice scraper, extra windshield washer fluid and jumper cables in their car. For the more adventurous individuals, Coffey suggests having extra sand or salt, a shovel, warm clothing and non-perishable food in case they end up stranded for a few hours. Furthermore, Coffey warns of fuel lines freezing up and encourages his students to keep their gas tanks halfway full.
Coffey’s best advice for all drivers in the winter is to just drive slower than you think you need to.
“I always tell students that you can go a little faster, but you can’t always slow down fast enough in a scary situation,” he said. Coffey states that many young and inexperienced drivers often end up going off the road simply because they were going too fast for the road conditions.
There are several helpful tips available for drivers to review. First of all, having snow tires on your car in the winter is a necessity. Cars Direct notes that snow tires have two main advantages: better grip and superior braking. Snow tires are built with extra tread for maximum grip on the road in snowy and icy conditions. Some snow tires often consist of softer and grippier rubber, very deep treaded grooves, and sometimes even hard studs; the combination is designed to give snow tires the best possible traction. Furthermore, the noteworthy traction of snow tires helps when breaking because they can dig into the snow and ice to allow the car to stop more abruptly.
Lucian Bedard, a senior who drives a yellow punch-buggy, noted the difference between driving with snow tires and without. “It [the car] wasn’t so great at first because it had really bald tires but then we got better tires for it,” he said. Bedard continued on the difference between regular and snow tires, stating, “I have snow tires on my car,without snow tires, driving in the winter can be difficult.”
Weather.com offers a lot of advice for drivers driving in cold, snowy conditions. Such tips include decreasing one’s speed and leaving plenty of room to stop, keeping one’s lights and windshield clean, using lower gears to keep traction, and avoiding the use of cruise control or overdrive when on icy roads. Furthermore, and a somewhat more obvious tip, is to avoid passing snow plows and sand trucks. Often, the road behind these slower-moving vehicles is in better condition than the road in front of them. AAA, the American Automobile Association, advises drivers to keep their gas tanks at least half full, in order to avoid the gas line freezing up. AAA also discourages drivers from stopping while going up a hill because it’s harder to slowly go up a hill than it is to get some inertia going on a flat roadway before taking on the hill.
Bedard commented on one of his most important tips for winter drivers: “Go slow, don’t try to be in a hurry, leave earlier than you would expect to and if you have snow tires then that definitely helps.”
Winter driving also presents a higher risk of getting stuck or going off the road, if one gets stuck, AAA encourages drivers to turn their wheels side to side a few times in order to push snow out of the way. AAA recommends that drivers don’t spin their wheels. When stuck, spinning of wheels will only dig a car deeper into the snow. Lastly, if a driver is really stuck and needs a last minute resort, AAA advocates for pouring sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels in order to help get traction.
At CVU, the safety of students is one of its top priorities. CVU students are trusted with their own parking lots and the ability to come and go from the school. The safety of CVU students can sometimes be put in danger by the extreme Vermont weather conditions. There are several resources available for students who want extra tips or help with winter driving.
“When the roads are bad or if we have a storm or bad weather, it’s better to have a student take their time getting here than have them get in an accident,” Vicky Roberts, Nichols House Administrative Assistant, said. CVU would rather have a student be late for school than have a student be speeding to school on icy roads. “We just want them to be safe,” Roberts added.