Thursday, February 2, 2017

Top 6 Ways to Stay OUT of the Ditch This Winter

1.    Slow Down. Now this might seem a little bit obvious but it’s the #1 thing you can do to safely navigate snow and ice. Slow and measured actions are safe and prudent. A few years ago I was driving about 25 mph on an Oregon mountain pass as the snow fell. I was passed several times by large 4-wheel drive vehicles. One of the very same SUVs that passed me going around 50 MPH had slid off the road about 5 miles later. In fact I counted six different 4WD vehicles (in the ditch) that particular trip. It is better to drive a little slower and get home safe than overestimate your driving and/or vehicle’s capability and end up off the road. 

2.    Accelerate and Brake slowly and smoothly. Beneath the surface of a light snow pack is often ice. If a car has some momentum you can usually go straight without too many problems, however as soon as you turn too quickly or brake too hard that grip is easily lost. That’s why you see many cars off the side of the road where there are big turns (on-ramps), or near hills. When the roads look clear but temperatures are freezing, it’s crucial to slow down, because you can’t always see ice on the road. Black ice is invisible to drivers and will sneak up on you, especially on bridges. Since cold air flows underneath them, you can assume the bridge coming up is frozen and slippery. Proceed with caution and cover your brake.

3.    Winterize your vehicle. Replacing the water in your radiator with antifreeze will protect your engine. Keeping your gas tank at least half-full will keep your car running if you get stuck. A good friend was stuck in I-405 traffic for 5 hours during that major Seattle snowstorm in '08. Luckily, he had enough gas. However, many people ditched their cars on the side of the freeway and had to hike to the next exit to get gas. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever valued wiper fluid as much as I do when I’ve been showered with dirty winter snow from the big trucks in front of me.

4.    The Separation is in the Preparation. When Russell Wilson said this he was referring to football; however, we’re going to apply it to winter driving. Every car should be equipped with an emergency kit complete with first aid, triangles or flares, jumper cables, and flashlight/batteries, etc. Also a charged cell phone, a blanket, granola bar, and water will come in handy while you wait for help to come. If you go out in the snow, it’s a good idea to throw a small shovel and a sand/cat litter bag in the trunk in case you get stuck and need to dig yourself out.  

5. Skidding out of control? Steer in the direction you want to go. Many people that have not experienced a skid get this one confused. Should you turn into the skid or away? And what does that mean anyway? Here’s an example: if your back end is sliding to your right, you need to steer to the right as well. If you steered to the left in this situation you would end up spinning around.

I was driving in upstate New York one winter when a snowstorm hit. I was doing about 50 MPH and didn’t realize how slick the freeway was and I started to slide. I steered in the direction of the skid, but the tail of my car whipped back the other way as soon as I got control. This went on back and forth five or six times until I was finally able to stop less than a foot from a cement barrier. I’ll admit, I had to take a break for a minute to catch my breath from all the adrenaline. The car behind me, who witnessed the entire ordeal, was clapping as he drove by. I wasn’t trying to look like a stunt driver, but did slow down considerably for the rest of the trip. I just count my lucky stars it was a wide freeway and my car didn’t hit anything. Bottom line: look where you want to go and do whatever it takes to steer yourself there. The wheel will jerk but you need to hold it steady. If you look off the road, that's where you'll go. Keep focused on your empty lane ahead and that's where you'll go. This guy gets it . . . 

6.    Stay home. What? Did I really just say that? I’m sure you’re yelling at your screen, “How dare you infringe on my driving rights”! True, you can try to brave the weather, however we need to gauge our risk tolerance with our pocket book. The average cost for a crash with vehicle property damage is around $7,500. Your insurance will pay for most of that, but they are in business for a reason, and you’ll eventually pay them back through higher premiums. So if you just want to go out in a snowstorm for a donut run, you might want to err on the side of caution. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Top 5 most dangerous aspects of fall driving

Fall is a beautiful season with colorful leaves falling from trees and the noticeable change in the air. For me it's the smell of hot apple cider and the distant sound of Friday night football games that bring back so many memories. To keep everyone safe out there, here are some helpful tips on how to navigate the changing weather and to be safe on the road.

#1 School - As kids go back to school, there is more traffic on the roads early in the morning and mid-afternoon. Many kids wait for the bus in the dark, so be sure to slow down in residential neighborhoods. Here are the rules for school buses flashing their red lights (from the WA State driver's guide page 3-23):

"You must stop for a school bus that is stopped with its red lights flashing whether it is on your side of the road, the opposite side of the road or at an intersection you are approaching. You are not required to stop for a school bus with red lights flashing when the stopped school bus is traveling in the opposite direction and the roadway: – has three or more marked traffic lanes, – is separated by a median, or – is separated by a physical barrier."

#2 Tire Pressure - When temperatures drop so does your tire pressure. An under-inflated tire can be dangerous because more of your tread is touching the ground and that causes more friction. This will wear out your tires faster and can cause the tread to separate and increases the chance of a blowout. Be sure to keep your tires filled to the manufacturer’s recommendation, and if you're unsure most tire shops will check and fill them for free. (Just don't drink their coffee and eat all their popcorn, too, you cheapskate!)

# 3 Fog - It's surprising how you'll be enjoying a pleasant sunny September one day and then the fog will be there the next morning, seemingly out of nowhere. When navigating the fog, slow down. Studies have shown the human brain overcompensates for the lack of visibility and drivers actually drive faster in the fog, weird I know. For headlights, use low beams and/or fog lights. High beams reflect back and actually decrease your visibility in most cases. If you need to use a guide, follow the white lines on the right side on the road. Using the center line as your guide will cause you to move closer to the middle and oncoming vehicles. And finally, maintain plenty of following distant. You don't ever want to be involved in the middle of multi-car pileup (caused by fog and stupid drivers).

# 4 Rain - Yes, Washington drivers know this one all too well. That first big rain of the year can be almost as dangerous as ice. The oils that have been burnt onto the road during the summer heat, are now bubbling up and causing slippery havoc. After that first big rain, a lot of it washes away. However, slow down around those corners, which is precisely where many new drivers get into their first crash.

#5 Frost - As we approach the winter, there will be mornings when temperatures drop to freezing levels and create dangerous conditions. Again, careful on the corners, as this is where many people lose traction. There was a time during college when I was driving on I-5 and I started to fish-tail. Luckily, it was a straight stretch of road and by letting off the gas, and steering in the direction I wanted to go, I was able to regain control. It seemingly came out of nowhere, however it was over a bridge so I shouldn't have been surprised. Unlike regular roads, bridges have cold air flowing underneath increasing the likelihood of freezing.

If you haven’t ever experienced a skid and don't know how to control one, skid training is a great tool. Otherwise go to a big empty frozen parking lot and experience it first-hand (just don't let your school principal or church pastor catch you, they might make you power wash off the skid marks).  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Mr. Norwegian: Part Three

It's chilly standing in the cold night air speaking with Mr. Norwegian. Part of me is thinking that he’s a very pleasant young man in appearance and manners. And the other part of me is thinking that I need to make sure we get all of his information for the rental company ... in case we never hear from him again. He's talking about having borrowed his friend's car and wanting to pay for damages instead of going through the police and insurance company. And I'm weighing my want to trust him against the possibility of me needing to pay for the collision if I wrongly judge his character.

Unfortunately, Mr. Norwegian was driving his Swedish friend's car. 
Fortunately, there wasn't much damage to his car. 
Unfortunately, there was significant damage to our car. 
Fortunately, his friend has insurance. 
Unfortunately, having insurance pay for an at-fault collision would raise his friend's premium dramatically and probably ruin their relationship. 
Fortunately, he is financially able to handle the cost of the collision if we agree to settle privately.
Unfortunately, we need a police report for the rental car agency.

Fortunately, he respects our decision to call the police.

Mr. Norwegian's Serbian language skills are adequate but when going to jail for causing a collision is on the line, it's important to have a native speaker in your corner. He called his Serbian roommates. As we continue to talk with him, we find out that Mr. Norwegian is in Belgrade working in a hospital emergency room as part of his medical training. He will become a doctor in the next couple of years. 

Thinking of the wonderful ER doctor who sewed up Jovana's hand last year, I can totally picture Mr. Norwegian working in the same position. Even in the middle of a crisis, he is both calm and genuine. It’s endearing. He could have driven off. He could have been angry. He could have done a number of things, but instead he decided to get to know us a little better.  I'm sure he probably never imagined that someone else may go to the ER because of something he did.

The police dispatched to our scene arrive. I'm back to sitting in the car and feeling warmer already with the door closed. I look in the back seat. My girls haven't woken up and Anja is patiently sitting. She's never been in a collision before or even been pulled over by the police. This particular situation seems to be an ideal learning ground. Adults all acting mature. It's a relief, really.

Jovana starts writing out what happened. Mr. Norwegian takes a breathalyzer test. Clean. The officer taps on out window. Now it's Jovana's turn. She blows into the device. And is also alcohol-free. No surprise there. The crash wasn't as bad as it could have been. No one got hurt. Or died. Or even needed the ER. It's just a money issue. That's okay. I believe we were divinely protected.

Jovana gets hands on training in incident reporting.
Mr. Norwegian genuinely feels bad to have put a kink in our evening plans. It takes an hour or more to get all the paperwork done and be on our way. He leans in the window and offers to take us all out to dinner to make up for our inconvenience. What? Who does that? The gesture is well received. 

Did I mention that Mr. Norwegian is good looking? Intelligent. Calm under pressure. Maybe in his mid-20s. Yes, this is the type of guy we want for Jovana. We exchanged phone numbers.

Jocelyn was surprised to find out the next morning that we'd been in a collision.
She'd gone back to sleep after the initial impact.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to take Mr. Norwegian up on his offer before we were scheduled to go to Slovenia 36 hours later.  
Fortunately, we arranged to exchange our smashed car before we left town.
Unfortunately, the smashed car was a Škoda.
Fortunately, names are humorous. ┼ákoda  means “darn it” or “bummer” in Slovene.
Unfortunately, we didn't get a copy of the police report to give to the rental agency.
Fortunately, Mr. Norwegian had already been in and arranged payment
Unfortunately, our rental agency didn't haven any other cars available in the peak season.
Fortunately, rental agencies are friends with each other and loan cars between themselves.

The next morning, my girls and I leave for Slovenia in a roomy Chevrolet.

While we were gone Jovana and Mr. Norwegian continued to text each other. The timing for meeting up would be tight. Jovana's in her final days of her undergraduate studies. After we return from Slovenia, we’ll only have one free evening before my husband and sons come to join us on our Balkan adventure. Two days later Jovana will take her final exams for college and that same afternoon, we’ll all leave for Macedonia. 

When we come back to Belgrade, Jovana will pack her bags and have one day before flying to Germany. She'll be gone for 6 months while doing an internship with an insurance company. That doesn't even take into consideration Mr. Norwegian's work schedule. Yikes! Timing this meet up will definitely be tight. And puts a damper on my plans for their happily ever after.

Yet still I dream. I picture them at a party together. They looked fantastic. Heads turned as they walked into the room. In a more private moment, someone would ask them how they met. She would say, “on the street” and he would add, “I just ran into her.” They'd look at each other and smile. Because very few people knew the whole truth.

To my delight, Jovana and Mr. Norwegian meet up a couple of days before we get back. He dresses up. She doesn't. It doesn't matter, they have easy conversation and enjoy each other's company. Interestingly, Mr. Norwegian is familiar with the Pacific Northwest. His sister lived and worked in Bellevue…the same city where the main office to our driving school is located. And where Jovana interned last summer. Sharing a connection over two continents convinces me even more that these two are meant for each other.

He's 30, she tells me. "Well, at least he looks young," I say.  They exchange a few more texts. And then one evening in Macedonia, Mr. Norwegian sends Jovana a Facebook friend request. I push. I plead. "Jovana, did you accept it yet?" She didn't. Not too soon, she tells me. "But he is your destiny!" Bridget, calm down. Nothing will come of this. I'm leaving. He's in Serbia. Then he'll leave. "Jovana! Life if full of challenges and you've just gotten a peek into how this guy handles a crisis. You want someone like that."

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Mr. Norwegian: Part Two

We turned left from a dark side street onto the main road a few moments after the light turned green. Just a few more minutes and we’d be back to Jovana’s apartment. But, as soon as we entered the intersection we knew we were in trouble with no way to escape.

Bright headlights were coming straight for us.
There was no where to go.
Squealing brakes.
Crunching car.
Screaming erupts from the back seat.
Our car stalls.
Jocelyn starts to cry.
It’s her door that’s been smashed.
We look at our light.
It’s still green.

Jovana jumped out of our car to chase the guy down. Hit and runs in Belgrade are common and there was no way she was going to let this guy get away. Turns out the driver wasn’t going to flee. He got out of his vehicle, a bit stunned. He missed seeing his red light because he’d been looking just beyond it at the green arrow marking his reversible lane as open. An unfortunate, but easy mistake to make. He tries to stop. Or swerve. Or do something. Anything. But it’s too late. We’ve been hit.

Our situation remains precarious. Like targets, we are sitting in the middle of the intersection vulnerable to getting hit again.

I get out, run around to the driver’s seat, put on the hazard lights and try to start the car. Nothing happens. Yikes! A line of cars slowly begins to go around us. Jovana calls out, “don’t move the car!” She wants the police to see everything in its original position….they’re now on their way.

My thoughts immediately went back to the driving instructor conversation Jovana and I had been having literally two minutes prior to the crash. And I chuckle. I know this collision isn’t her fault. But the irony of it all is pretty humorous.

While waiting for the police, another random officer happened upon us. First he checked to make sure we were okay. Drivers who cause injury to others in Belgrade don’t just get a ticket. They go to jail.

I didn’t know for sure but I thought we were. Jocelyn, asleep before the crash, cried for a minute as it was happening and then fell back asleep. The officer wanted to make sure she was okay and to call an ambulance, if necessary.

I got out to open her door. It was stuck. I put my whole body into it, grabbed the handle and gave it my best pull. Success! Jocelyn didn’t wake up when I took her out but nuzzled into my shoulder seeking comfort from the chill night air.

The officer directed us to move our car, which thankfully started immediately, onto the sidewalk and out of traffic. A large back up had already formed and needed release. After getting everyone in a safe holding pattern, the officer left and we waited for the officers dispatched to our collision to arrive.

While we waited, the guy who hit us, who we now call Mr. Norwegian (he’s from Norway), came over to our vehicle. I got out. “Do you speak English?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied. We shook hands as introduced ourselves. “You know there are better ways to go about meeting people,” I said with a grin.
Complements of Facebook you now have Mr. Norwegian's photo.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Mr. Norwegian: Part One

Visibility in the center of Belgrade was low as we winded our way through the narrow streets headed for home. Jovana and her cousin Anja had just run in to pick up a take-out pizza. Kira, almost 2, refused to nap earlier in the day and needed extra amounts of attention. We were anxious to eat and end the day with a good night’s sleep.

The evening had turned torturous about the time my girls started throwing dirt from the potted plants at the mall, and got worse when they had to touch everything in the shops, then broke a necklace, wouldn't stop with the name calling in the car and had overall disobedience issues.  A fight had broken out earlier between Jocelyn, age 4 and Anja, 12. It didn't seem to matter that they’d been best of friends since we had arrived one week earlier. Or that we’d played games together in the arcade. They definitely weren't getting along now.
Anja, Jocelyn and Kira
There was a lull in the back seat commotion. Turning around, I realized the temporary cease-fire came from both Kira and Jocelyn falling asleep. Jovana and Anja returned. I held the pizza in my lap and felt its warmth. My stomach growled the moment the aroma hit my nose.  

I added Jovana to my rental car policy for times like these. She’s a conscientious driver and fully capable of getting me and my jet-lagged girls around. I was her driving instructor and helped her get her first license when she was an exchange student in our home almost five years ago. She improved her ability to handle road crazy by going home to Belgrade and learning to drive a stick shift in city traffic, which is not an easy task. It takes complete focus to get to any destination and avoid numerous hazards.

I've been trying to devise a plan for Jovana to come back to Seattle to live. She’s got a clean driving record and has almost had a license long enough to become eligible to be a driving instructor. Ooh, the perfect set up. She can come back to live with us and have a real job and earn enough money to get ahead when she comes back to Serbia. She can make in an hour in Seattle the same amount as she can make in a day as a student in Belgrade.

I offered her a job as an instructor at my driving school. Jovana’s dream has always been to teach teens how to drive. Ha ha. I’m not sure that’s anyone’s dream. But it’s fun and keeps you young. The conversation moved to her upcoming internship in an insurance company in Germany and what the possible future may hold.

We turned left from a dark side street onto the main road a few moments after the light turned green. Just a few more minutes and we’d be back to Jovana’s apartment. But, as soon as we entered the intersection we knew we were in trouble with no way to escape. 
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