By Matias Grotewold

New high school drivers struggle to acclimate to the wintry conditions

The universal rule of thumb for winter driving resonates time and time again: don’t slam the brakes. From drivers’ education classes to that last second before the accident, the words are repeated by instructors and drivers alike: don’t slam the brakes. But when the tires slide and the vehicle spins out of control and the body slips into panic mode, the right foot goes down hard on that left pedal. The tires stop spinning, and the roadside recipe for disaster is concocted. It’s the ideal slip-and-slide for a two-ton vehicle, wheels locked by the brakes, defenseless to keep the car from hurling across the ice without traction.

As the winter months pass and the snowfalls pile up, the conditions become arduous for those experienced at driving in the snow and a wintry nightmare for the inexperienced.

For experienced drivers like senior Cayla Cameron, the conditions are easier to cope with, yet they remain far from ideal.

“I don’t think I’ll ever like driving in snow, but I feel a lot more comfortable with it now that I have driving experience,” Cameron said.

However, for newer drivers who will be doing much of their first independent driving this winter, including junior Stratos Davayios, the conditions can be frightening.

“[The snowy conditions] are a little bit intimidating since I’m obviously not accustomed to driving in the winter, but I feel confident since I’ll have been driving a lot beforehand,” Davayios said.

According to statistics from the Icy Road Safety website, central and northern Ohio make up part of the belt through the midwest that is considered “high risk” in terms of winter fatalities. The 2009-2010 winter season in Ohio had 17 winter fatalities, the 6th highest in the nation.

Cameron was involved in a nonfatal car crash during the winter of her junior year. When another driver lost control after hitting a patch of black ice and crashed into a stop sign, Cameron hit the same patch of black ice, causing her to hit the other car.

Senior Angela Bifsha was a passenger in Cameron’s car during the crash and places the blame entirely upon the other driver for panicking when the car slid.

“If he would have kept calm, then he wouldn’t have ended up going off the road and he would have been out of the way by the time we hit the patch [of ice],” Bifsha said.

If a car begins to slide in snowy or icy conditions, the recommendation widely given by driving instructors and driving manuals is to brake gently and not panic.

“If you are sliding or drifting, don’t try to stop your car or turn out of it because it could cause problems for yourself and other people,” Cameron said. “Just let the car take its course and keep it as straight as you can like [the instructors] [teach] in drivers ed[ucation].”

Quick reflexes and having the ability to predict what will happen to other people as they drive are skills that are only learned through hours of driving experience. While mandatory drivers education classes for minors in Ohio require eight hours of in-car training with an instructor and an additional 50 hours of driving with an adult, most students’ training hours will not occur during wintry conditions. This inevitably results in many new drivers being alone during their first driving experience in wintry conditions.

“Driving like everyone else around you is [a bad idea],” Bifsha said. “New drivers need to pay special attention to the people and cars around them, especially in winter.”