I Drove Home in the Snow Storm
Today, I drove home is a freak snow storm. It was forecasted to be a 1-3 inches lite storm. It was the first of this season. It turned out to be much worse than predicted. It was a heavy storm with 6 inches accumulated in a short period of time and with ice and wet snow. The roads were extra slippery and caught the road crew by surprise. They did not even have time to spread the sand and salt. I finally made it home after five hours where as normally would be a 30 minutes drive on a parkway.
- Nov. 15, 2018
This article is not about a freak snow storm. It is about how a human driver can do almost amazing feat while a self driving vehicle would have been stuck in the snow.
I am over 60 years old and have 40 plus years of driving experience. I lived in the Northeast of USA and am well familiar with driving in snow storms. It is an annual ritual. Most of the time, we stay home to avoid the traffic. This day, I took a chance and listened to the weather forecast and believed it to be a light storm.
I was about 25 miles from home doing my weekly volunteer work. After 3 pm, the snow started to fall and quickly got more intense by the minute. I decided to head home a bit early. After I got onto the parkway, I started to get warning from the drivers going the opposite way. I slowed down and sure enough, a minute later, there was a fender bender to the side. The driver lost control in the slippery snow covered road.
The traffic came to a stop and cars started to build up behind me. I had the waze app running on my iPhone. It directed me to take a normal route home and the estimated arrival time is about 45 minutes.
I am very familiar with this route since I travel on it almost every week. I also know of the hills and curves. I made a decision to take the local roads instead. I knew in these conditions, some cars will not be able to make up the hills. My thinking is at least on local roads, the snow would be less slippery and have had traffic to help clear the accumulation. On a regular day, the local route would take an extra 10 minutes. I decided to take the hit in time but avoid getting stuck behind cars that cannot handle the hills.
It was a great choice since the snow started coming down even harder and the visibility was reduced. Driving on local roads was a comfort since the speed is reduced and people are more careful with traffic lights and all.
I had to deal with some issues due to the heavy wet snow and sleet.
1. The wipers were getting stuck with ice and the windshield was not cleared.
2. The roads are covered with a light coat of snow and the lane lines are hidden. You cannot make out the lanes.
3. Some cars are stuck on the side because they have poor traction or worn tires.
4. Some drivers with 4 wheel drive and SUV thinks they are super human and drive at normal speed.
5. The periodic small hills are causing people to get stuck in the up slope.
My Driving Experience Kicked In
Here is what I did instictively to get me home. This was not my first time. Over my career, I had several incidence of similar conditions. With each experience, I learn what to do better the next time.
First, I turned on the hazzard light. This alert the people behind me that there is danger ahead. They usually will keep a larger distance behind me.
Second, I turned up the heater and fan and blast it to the front windshield. This helps melt the ice accumulating on the wipers and also clear the windshield of condensation and fog.
I also turn on the defrost to the rear windshield. To reduce condensation, I opened the side widows just a crack to vent.
It also help that I happened to be driving a 5-speed manual vehicle. This gives me complete control over the transmission.
Finally, I drove carefully behind the car ahead and noticing the terrain. I kept my distance and especailly when I approach a hill. I would stop at the bottom of the hill and waited till the path is clear before proceeding. This way, I would not be caught stuck in the middle of an incline. Once you are stuck, it is much harder if not impossible to get going again.
What Would a Self Driving Car Do?
All through this incident, I kept cool and collected. I couldn’t help but think to my self, what would a self driving car do in this situation. Suppose I was sitting in a Tesla. How would it handle this scenario? Would it keep going and get me home or would it give up and just stand still until all obstruction is removed, or until the road is plowed...
The problem it would face is the visibility issue. It would have a hard time making out the lanes and staying on course. It would also have difficulty with the down shift. I can anticipate what is ahead and see that I would need to down shift to get more traction. A self driving vehicle would not know about terrain. It would shift automatically when the need arise but then it may be too late.
It certainly would not anticipate the problem with starting up on an incline. It is usually programmed to follow the car ahead within one or two car length. If a car ahead is stopped at a light on an uphill incline, the car would just follow behind and stop. Once the light turn green, the problem arises. The wheels start to spin and the car swivel left and right.
This is just one scenario of many. I will document others as I encounter them. Those in the self driving car industry should pay attention. These are the cases that cannot be easily programmed. It is learned over a period of time with experience. How does a self driving car learn? Could it learn like a human?
This is the essence of intelligence. Human intelligence comes naturally. We learn by doing and making mistakes and correcting them along the way. In my own case, I had my share of fender benders in my youth. I learned to not hit the brake when loosing control in order to avoid locking the wheels.
Today we have anti-lock technology to help the driver. However, there is no replacement for driver experience when it comes to making sound decisions on the fly and without fanfare.
Would a self driving car deliberately break the traffic law and run a red light to avoid being stalled on a hill? I did just that as a fly of the moment decision. There was no cars coming from the other directions.
I made it home after five hours of driving in terrible traffic conditions and taking detours. I blamed the weather channel for their bad weather forecast. I should have stayed home today.
Here is the Forecast...1-3 inches snow in Yorktown Hts. NY Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018.
Does this Look Like 1-3 inches?
A Non-Scientific Poll
Who is better at driving in the snow?
© 2018 Jack Lee