Winter Driving

Harry Clark, Finger Lakes ABATE Chapter Safety Officer

Well, we aren't doing much riding this time of year, let's face it. But there are some things going on in the winter that, if we pay attention, can help us be better riders when the weather does relent, brighten up, and warm up. I'll pass on discussing slip-sliding and how to avoid spinning out on icy roads, and any discussion on how to handle your 4-wheeler during winter road conditions. Instead, let's look at that fundamental principal of safe driving, making yourself visible to other motorists.

This time of year, we typically have many dark, cloudy, dreary days. But we also have snow cover much of the time. Combine low light levels from heavy overcast with snow cover, which is bright, and you have a situation where vehicles on the road are harder to see because of overall darkness and the fact that the road is relatively dark compared with snow, and also because vehicles can be covered with road grime from sloppy winter road conditions. In addition, the pupils of your eyes constrict to limit the amount of light coming in from the snow, which then makes the road, and other vehicles appear darker, and harder to see.

The sensible thing to do is to put your headlights on this time of year. The darker it is, the more valuable your headlights are, and the more visible they are to other motorists. If you look around, you will see other motorists who stubbornly refuse to use their headlights no matter how dark the day is, or how bad the weather. When I see another driver in the rain, or driving in a snowstorm, who does not put his headlights on, I am looking at a bad driver, one who just doesn't "get it."

None of us want our right of way violated by other motorists, which creates emergency situations, or wrecks. To encourage others to avoid violating our right of way, it makes sense for all of us to make ourselves more visible, and using headlights is an easy, inexpensive way of doing so. One thing to keep in mind is that other drivers can't see as well as you can. Some have had 4 drinks. Some are old. Some just can't see very well. The idea is to be easily visible to the worst drivers out there, not just the average driver, and headlights help with that.

If you are sensitive to this concept of making yourself more visible in your car, you'll do the same on your bike.

A buddy of mine was killed in a car wreck about 9 or 10 years ago. He was driving home from work one afternoon this time of year on a two-lane road. It was a cloudy day, with snow on the ground. An oncoming motorist decided to pass the car in front of her, and wound up hitting my buddy's car head-on. He died at the scene. I'm not sure if he had his headlights on. He probably didn't. Would you have had your headlights on in that situation? Can you see where having headlights on might have prevented a wreck like that?

Also, you can't just flip a switch, and instantly become a safe rider. It takes time and effort on your part to become a safe rider. You need to drive safely year round in order to be a safe rider. Your defensive driving skills need to be really good for you to be a safe rider.

If you know someone who would like to learn to ride a motorcycle this coming season, a family member perhaps, try to encourage that person to become the very best defensive driver he can be, before he begins his riding career. The winter is a good time for everyone to improve their defensive driving skills.

Good luck to everyone coping with winter, and have a safe riding season when the weather does warm up.