Safe Winter Driving Tips for Rural Area Roads
Because I live "in the country" I spend a lot of time on the road. It takes about an hour to get anywhere near the big city. While I am lucky that the nearest store is only about 5 miles away, I have to remember it is a small grocery with limited selection. I try to combine driving tasks so I don't have to spend too much of my free time in (what can be) dangerous conditions.
I had the best driving teacher (my Dad), and I wanted my son to have a good, safe start to his driving career. When my darling son started driving, I got him a bumper sticker that said "How's my driving" and had my cell number. This was more to keep caution in his head than anything else. Rural roads are dangerous in the best weather and can be deadly in a matter of moments when a driver is not paying strict attention. He learned to drive in the winter, and I tried to impress on him some basic defensive driving safety rules.
I read a few years ago that the most popular month for deer related accidents is November. Before reading that article, I would never have guessed that deer jumped in front of cars most often in the fall months. Every year since then, I have kept track, and sure enough late October through early December I encounter numerous deer on the side of the road. One lesson I tried to impress on dear son was that you can NEVER trust a deer. Even if it looks like they are already across the road and you can safely pass - pass with caution. They turn around more often than not.
If you are visiting a rural area and someone is driving slowly and cautiously in front of you, there may be a good reason! I don't know how many times I have slowed down for a "known deer area" only to have an impatient driver right on my tail. Mind, I am slowing down to the posted speed limit, not little old lady speed. So, another area I tried to impress into dear son's head is that it does not ever pay to tailgate. Whether the road is sufficiently clear or not, you can never tell if there is a hazard ahead. You will never be able to stop if you are too close to the vehicle in front of you. And, if you see a blinker, that vehicle may just have to slow down and turn left across a busy highway!
The lesson I spent the most time discussing with dear son was "use extreme caution when passing". Every time a car passed us on a narrow, dangerous stretch of road I would comment "wait till we get to xyz, they will be right in front of us". Lo and behold, we would get to the lone stop sign, and the car was right in front of us. I taught him the formula rate x time = distance. How much time do you save if you are going 20 miles if you can drive 10 mph faster? If you travel at 55 mph it will take .36 hours, or 21.8 minutes. If you travel 65 mph it will take .307 hours or 18.46 minutes. Is another person's life worth 3 minutes? Not a chance! Only pass when it is 100% safe!
When the cold weather hits, you can not tell if the road is icy or not. It does not have to rain for the road to be icy. Condensation and melting snow from cars can be just as dangerous as a full on rainstorm. Even going the posted speed limit may be too fast around corners. Again, if you are in an unfamiliar area, and other cars are progressing slowly take heed. There is a very dangerous spot in my rural area, in which there have been many accidents. It is not posted with anything other than an "ICY when wet" sign. People do not believe it could be icy because it is a sunny road. But there is one area that doesn't get sun until late afternoon, which creates perfect conditions for a slippery slidey (not so) fun park.
Snow can be another danger alltogether. Just because you have a 4wheel drive vehicle does not mean you can't slip and slide. Every time it snows in our rural area, there are multiple accidents that are usually caused by people who get in their 4wd and drive up the hill to see the snow. If you are in an area that is past a "chain requirement" sign SLOW down. I have to drive about 5 miles past the chain signs to get home when it snows. I can't tell you how many folks tailgate in the SNOW. Just don't do it. The potential for losing property or life is too great to save that 2 or 3 minutes.