It is my firm belief that no young person should get their driver’s license without experiencing winter driving.
I don’t think this is too much to ask, especially considering how long it takes for adults with many years of driving experience to relearn driving on snow and ice each winter.
This hit home for me last week when I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize saying a piece of my mail had been delivered to the wrong address a few towns away. The caller had said he thought about just marking return to sender, but knew I worked at The Star News and since it was from New Jersey and had the shape of a Christmas card he figured I would like to have it.
I thanked him for letting me know and took time over my lunch break to drive down to Dorchester to pick it up. I have driven on CTH A in Dorchester literally hundreds, if not thousands of times. I slowed to a crawl on the snow-covered turning lane on Hwy 13 and made the right turn at the lights. With my driving instincts still in dry pavement mode, I tapped the accelerator to get up to speed and head into town. I hadn’t taken into account that when there is snow on the roads, there is ice. I soon found myself fishtailing and having the lessons of my drivers instructor flashing in my mind about how to steer your way out of turns.
I was reminded of a trip my wife and I took shortly before we were married. We were driving along a blacktopped county round just outside Marshfield and hit about a quarter mile stretch of black ice. Kim was driving at the time and the ingrained memory of years of driving in Wisconsin winters kicked in and she kept our sedan from ending up in the ditch, unlike the several other cars we passed on our way home that night.
For the past few months I have been taking my son, Alex, out for driving lessons.
I am not sure if it is that I am older and more laid back then when I was teaching my daughter to drive more than half a decade ago, but the experience of teaching Alex to drive has been much less stressful.
Part of me wonders if it is the matter of timing. Alex finished up the classroom portion of his driving instruction over summer school and started the road portion of driving in August. He had many hours on the road before having to drive on wet leaves in Autumn or the snow started to fall in winter.
With a birthday at the end of May, Beth had it in reverse getting her learners permit in December and learning the basics of driving in the snow, slush and ice. This likely contributed to the amount of stress level and gray hair I had as an active passenger trying to understand that you have to go completely around the big snowbank at the end of our street or you will end up stuck in the snow.
As I steered my way through the patch of icy road last week, I was reminded that when things seem out of control, the best option is to go gentle on the gas pedal and avoid making rapid course changes. From years of winter driving in Taylor County’s backroads, the other major lesson is that the ditches are deep and will most likely have water under that snow cover so you want to avoid ending up there if at all possible.
Come to think of it, the idea of going slow and steady when things seem to be spiraling out of control and to avoid ending up face down in a ditch, are not bad lessons to apply to other areas of life.
So far, this winter hasn’t been too bad, but with at least three more months of cold and snow on the horizon there is plenty of time for me to change my mind about that.
Brian Wilson is News Editor at The Star News.