Speed and Distance

Image drawn by Leigh W Cole.

Leigh W Cole

Agora Staff

Does this sound blunt?

It should be, the following advice is from a former over-the-road truck driver who may just keep you alive this winter. 

By following the simple rule–speed and distance–you could save someone’s life, maybe even your own. There is no such thing as an accident, it’s called a crash because someone is at fault.

Speed and distance. 

Say it again, speed and distance.

Slow down, drive according to conditions, and keep at least one car length in front of you for every 10 miles per hour increments, and at least one car length or more in icy conditions.

The violation of this simple rule is probably the biggest reason for car crashes.

Slow down giving yourself time to stop and avoid the cars in front of you in case they stop suddenly.

Vehicle pre-checks before driving are important, among other things, that you should do this winter to get you where you are going safely.

These should be done every time you are about to travel. During the winter, you will have to get out and clean your windshield often, so while you are at it, give the entire vehicle a good visual inspection. 

Clean the snow off the lights and make sure all the lights are functioning, check your tires, preferably four snow tires, and visually inspect the car for overall damage. 

Always have at least a half tank of fuel and keep an emergency kit inside. Things like an extra coat, a blanket, ice scraper, snow shovel, and salt are helpful items to have in case of an emergency. 

To prevent fish-tailing in pickup trucks, add bags of salt or sand over the rear axle to weigh the bed down.

Always drive with your headlights on in winter conditions (snowing, sleeting, hailing, or raining), especially if you have the wiper blades going because it’s Michigan law. 

Avoid cruise control in freezing or inclement weather because you are not fully in control of your vehicle, and the abrupt stops could cause sliding or worse.

Understand that bridges and overpasses freeze before the rest of the roads. Drive with caution and be aware of black ice.

Know how to brake on slippery surfaces. Most vehicles have Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS), if the model was built after the 1980’s. 

It is important to understand how to use the braking system your vehicle has, but don’t be fooled; you cannot stop any faster on ice with or without ABS.

Four-wheel drive does not make you invincible and will not stop you from skidding. Driving on icy roads, you should always obey rule number one–speed and distance.

Don’t try and pass snow and salt trucks, these drivers have limited visibility and the road in front of them may be worse than what is behind them.

Be especially careful around semi-trucks. Do not drive too close behind them because those semis can go over road debris, and being too close behind one impairs your visual of the incoming road.

A semi can clear a large chunk of ice or a blown tire, but your car cannot, and this may damage your vehicle or cause you to crash. 

Semi-trucks in dry weather take at least three football fields to stop completely at 55 mph. In inclement weather conditions, it takes even longer for that semi to stop. 

Semi-trucks can legally weigh up to 80,000 lbs. while most cars weigh less than 3,000 lbs. In the case of a collision, your car will not fare well against a semi.

This emphasizes the importance to be courteous to semi-truck drivers, and their brake time by not cutting them off at your exits or braking suddenly in front of them.

If the weather is really bad and you feel unsafe–don’t drive. Wait for the snow trucks to come out and for the weather to clear up. Do not drive beyond your comfort zone.

Buckle up, it is the law, and could save your life in the case of a crash. 

Finally, stay off the phone. Seriously, you need to concentrate on driving and not on communicating. Whatever it is, it can wait until you are safely at your destination, and if it is that important—pull over.

By following these simple rules, the life you save may be your own.

Speed and distance.