Hummer: Your winter driving checklist

Thomas Hummer

Every winter, two things happen in Iowa: We get slammed with snow, and everybody forgets how to drive. When that first snow of the season hits, I’m always afraid to drive for about three days following. It isn’t because of the snow, it’s because of the other drivers.

The streets of Ames turn into a bumper car arena, and everyone is surprised when they can no longer speed around turns without suffering the consequences. The truth is, except for in extreme conditions, it’s just as easy to drive on snow as it is regular pavement. All you have to do is slightly alter your driving style, which basically just means going slowly and be carefully.

At this point in the winter, people generally seem to understand this much better. What the average citizen tends to forget are some other prerequisites of getting behind the wheel when snow is involved.

First, you have to clear off your windows and windshield. This may seem obvious to most of you, but there’s an appalling amount of people in this city who seem to think that a two-foot area in front of the steering wheel is sufficient. Contrary to this belief, peripherals are important.

Another overlooked area is that of the license plate. After a heavy snow, I find myself only being able to read about half of the license plates in town. Of course, this could just be a strategic advantage of the driver that prevents others from reporting their crazy driving antics, but that’s a benefit of the doubt that I’m not willing to give.

The next biggest offense is snow-covered headlights. I really don’t understand how people miss this one considering the lights barely cut through the snow, but it’s extremely common.

While this next one can’t usually be seen by others, be sure to check that your exhaust is clear of snow and ice. This situation isn’t quite as likely, but if it goes unnoticed, it can cause damage to your car and potentially be a health hazard.

Lastly, don’t forget to kick the snow off of your wheel wells and mud flaps. If this problem goes unattended, the big chunks can freeze to your car and become virtually impossible to remove without and ice pick, chisel or blowtorch. As the buildup grows, it can start scraping your tires and seriously impair your vehicles functionality. This one shouldn’t be too much to expect because, come on, who doesn’t want a good reason to kick something?

It gets difficult during this season to force yourself into taking the time to do all these things. This is especially true considering you have to put on extra layers of clothing, gloves, hats, etc. just to go outside. However, it’s still necessary, for you and the safety of everyone else. All you have to do is start your car, and by the time it’s done warming up you should be able to get all these things done.

If you’re simply forgetting to do these things, make a mental checklist for yourself and get into the habit. If you just don’t care to take the time, buck up and do it. I know some people like to protest winter by skipping these duties, but ignoring winter doesn’t mean it’s not there. I feel your pain, but the fact is that winter isn’t even close to done with us, so we can’t give up yet.