When our winter rains begin to fall, your chances of being in a collision increase, for several reasons. Here are a few pointers for keeping this winter a safe one on the road:
• Get your car ready: The summer heat dries out and cracks windshield wiper blades quite efficiently. Don't wait for that first rainy night, when your windshield is a smeared mess of glaring headlamps, to decide you need a new set. Now is also the time to thoroughly clean all of the interior windows; defrosters are more effective on clean glass. And by the way, buy a decent ice scraper while you are at the auto parts store.
Winter is not the time to get the last couple of thousand miles out of a set of tires. Even if they are still legal, you, your family, and the other drivers around you are far better off if you have a new set. On wet pavement, the deep grooves of new tire treads are far more effective in preventing hydroplaning and reducing stopping distance.
Check out all of your lighting. If you have even a side marker lamp out, replace it. You want to be as visible as possible to other drivers who are peering though their own wet windshields.
• Get your head ready: Be mentally prepared for winter conditions. Here in the valley, the sun bakes oil and grease into the roadway surfaces all through the summer months. The first few rains will bring this to the surface and make the roads even slicker. The worst spots are the last hundred or so feet leading up to a traffic light. This is where cars sit idling at a red light, dripping oil.
Another very slick material comes in the form of wet leaves, which will be all over the roads in the coming weeks. Just as when there is oil on the pavement, a stopping or turning maneuver that seems under control can go seriously wrong if even one tire gets onto some gooey wet leaves. Slow down.
Assume that other drivers are going too fast, can't see clearly, and have marginal tires. Increase your concentration, and make sure to wear your seatbelt. Most of all, assume that trips will take longer, even locally. Leave in plenty of time, and don't get frustrated by the inevitable slow traffic that will come with wet weather.
• Get your body ready: Night time driving in wet weather is hard work. Staring through a windshield that is spattered with wet leaves and the glow of hundreds of oncoming headlamps is taxing. Get enough sleep each night, so that your body isn't trying to catch a few winks as you go down the road.
Take care of yourself by eating well and staying hydrated. If you are taking cold medicines that can induce drowsiness, take the warning label seriously. The effects of alcohol are even more pronounced in winter driving situations. Drinking and driving, always a terrible idea, is at its most deadly during the holidays.
Wintertime is the most dangerous time to drive on a per mile basis. Now is the time to get ready. The above steps will make you a safer driver this winter, and all year round.
Questions, comments, or observations for Behind the Badge can be e-mailed to Lt. Bill Barry at firstname.lastname@example.org; mailed to the Lodi Police Department, 215 W. Elm St., Lodi, CA 95240; or phoned in to 333-6800, Box 2409.