Hey, slick, who taught you how to drive?

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, January 10, 2015

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Raindrops race down the windshield, then race up as I gain speed. One seems to dart the opposite way to the others, and I almost swerve, thinking it’s a deer running into my path.

The wipers intermittently funnel drops to the side, where they form little streams, moving to the back of the car and then off.

I’ve driven in hard rain.

This is not hard rain.

Bob Buckel

Bob Buckel

But with the temperature dancing around freezing, there’s an element of fear as you drive – fear that the blacktop you’re splashing across could turn into black ice at any moment.

To the annoyance of the ubiquitious guy-in-a-big-white-truck on my back bumper, I find myself going a little slower than normal, avoiding sudden moves. I’m in control, but I’m not completely sure I would be, if I swerved or braked.

It’s hard to skid in today’s cars, but obviously, some people still do. Either they don’t have anti-lock brakes, they’re utterly unaware of the conditions they’re driving through, or they’re practicing to be stunt drivers.

When I was teaching my eldest daughter how to drive, years ago, we were in Lubbock for Christmas, got a big snow and went to a frozen parking lot to learn how to drive on ice. We could not make our ALB-equipped car slide. We’d get up a little speed, jam on the brakes, and it would just … stop.

But I’ve skidded. Oh, I have skidded.

Growing up in Lamesa, driving a low-tech ’68 Impala, I was forced to learn how to drive on ice early. We could count on a handful of ice/snow events each winter, and all the sand and salt were reserved for the highways. City streets were skating rinks for motor vehicles.

The main thing I picked up was to avoid sudden moves. Don’t accelerate too quickly, stop too quickly or turn too sharply. If you do, the car keeps going, but you’re no longer driving – it has filed for free agency and is driving itself.

If another car or some immovable object like a tree happens to be in its path, all you can do is hope the car misses it.

Most drivers in a skid will spin the steering wheel like they’re doing something. Honestly, they might as well be in one of those little toy-car rides on the kiddie-tracks at Six Flags. The wheel is just play-like. It has nothing to do with the vehicle.

I’ve hit stuff and been hit. Neither is fun, although it seems to me that on ice – even though wrecks are more frequent – the consequences are less serious.

I don’t know if it’s the glide factor – you can hit a glancing blow and slide off in another direction like a pinball – or the fact that most people aren’t going at their usual breakneck speed. (Statistically, there may be no science at all behind this observation. Check with a state trooper if you want facts.)

The last such incident was in my old Chevy Blazer, during that freakish ice storm Super Bowl week in 2011, while I was delivering newspapers to the post office in Springtown. With a fair amount of weight over my rear axle, I was going slow on Texas 199 and felt pretty confident.

I shouldn’t have.

Next thing I knew, like my old dog, the Blazer’s rear end had outrun its front end. I got off the gas but didn’t pound the brake. Nevertheless, I spun around then went across the median. On the rough, icy grass, I got enough traction to just get up to the shoulder on the other side.

“Whew!” I thought. “I lucked out on that one.”

No. No, I didn’t. I eased off the brake to get going, and it would not. When I got out for a visual walkaround, I saw my right rear tire had been shredded – ironically, by the steel leg of a temporary highway sign in the median, held down by sandbags, warning drivers of construction ahead.

There was no other damage. A good Samaritan (a guy in a big white truck) saw my spinout and stopped. He went out of his way to help me get my spare out and on, and even took my old tire to be replaced.

Less than two years later, my son, who had taken the Blazer to college, spun off into a guardrail during an ice storm and totaled it.

That was a good car. Its only flaw – a big one – was that it was not very good on ice. My son’s better than he used to be.

I’m pretty darn good – but I still get nervous. I’m not sure about me, you, the weather – or that guy in the big white truck.

Bob Buckel is editorial director for the Messenger.

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