Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Surviving winter driving

Full disclosure: The editorial that appears at pottsmerc.com today was written by me, and this is my car. 

My shiny red convertible is a victim of the cattle chute on Route 422 westbound at Armand Hammer Boulevard. When I say "drive with care," I am speaking in part to those speeding past and getting too close to other vehicles, forcing them to veer ever so slightly until BAM a tire hits the protrusions from the concrete barriers.
This has not been a good winter for many people for lots of reasons, and the snow has often been the least of our headaches. 
When I write, "be careful out there," it has a personal meaning. Just ask my shiny, now dented, red convertible.

If you thought driving on snow and ice in the earlier weeks of this winter was treacherous, take a look around now.
The melting and refreezing runoff from this winter’s snow combined with the salt and brine applied to roadways has created a whole new set of hazards that demand drivers’ attention.
From our observations on streets and highways, it appears some people aren’t paying any mind.
We understand that driving on a clear road surface has a free-ing effect after snowfall on top of snowfall and two instances of extreme icing. But barreling down the clear road isn’t wise: Potholes, black ice and protruding snow piles lurk at every turn.
If you’re not seeing the potential these hazards can cause, your vehicles are. Auto body shops report vehicle damage is being reported, and some of it is severe.
“The roads look like they have been bombed,” said an insurance adjuster, noting the road damage. As an example of the damage the road can do to a vehicle, one auto body shop owner reported $5,000 in damage from just one pothole to a customer’s car. The customer had to replace a tire, wheel, front bumper cover and repair the fender and engine cradle, according to Nick Yannessa of Wheels in Motion in Pottstown.
Potholes are causing the most damage, but they’re not the only problem. Motorists are also encountering black ice or frozen patches from melting runoff during days when temperatures are above freezing which then refreezes overnight. The road you travel can change dramatically between one day’s evening commute and the next morning.
Hazards are aggravated at road and bridge construction sites, especially those on Route 422 east of Pottstown, where bridge reconstruction zones contain narrow chutes with barriers on either side and changing lanes. It’s nearly impossible to safely dodge potholes and stay in the construction lanes.
Another issue with potholes is that they fill with water from the melting snow, making it impossible for the motorist to know how deep they are. A 2-inch deep rift in pavement causes a bump; a 6-inch deep hole can damage the vehicle or cause a driver to lose control.
Drivers should slow down to avoid potholes and icy patches even if means angering the drivers behind you. That impatient driver behind you isn’t going to replace your wheel or tire, or find your missing hubcap.  Neither is the driver alongside you who is speeding by, inches away from your vehicle.
The best defense against damage from road hazards is driving slowly and remaining alert.
Hitting a pothole or an icy patch while driving at a high rate of speed can be disastrous. Hitting that same pothole while driving slowly may be annoying, but you’re likely to avoid a serious problem.
The psychology of driving fast because we feel freed from the worst of winter (at least for now) is dangerous. Don’t fall into this trap, especially when so many drivers around us are behaving carelessly.
We  trust that road crews will patch potholes as quickly as they can, and that temperatures above freezing will eventually prevent ice from forming.
The end is in sight to this harsh winter, but we’re not yet out of the danger zone. Keep that in mind when driving; be careful out there.


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