Practice Makes Perfect

E-mail Melanie Martella

According to this recent story in the Des Moines Register, accidents caused by winter road conditions peak in November and decrease as the winter progresses. Because, apparently, the more practice we get driving in nasty winter weather conditions, the better we get at it.

The Numbers Will Blow Your Minds
The idea of using weather sensors alongside the roads to even the odds a bit is an attractive one. Any accurate information about the weather and road conditions can help us make better decisions when driving, including when not to drive at all. In fact, several states have road condition information available online: Ohio, Indiana, and Nevada, to name just a few. (If you're interested in what elements go into a road weather information system (RWIS), take a look at this page.)

I know, from my own experience, that it takes a little practice to figure out how far my stopping distance has been affected (not to mention handling) when the road is decorated with ice, snow, slush, or that most evil of all precipitation forms "wintry mix." The more I drive in snow and ice the better I become at judging what my car can safely do. The part of the article that took my breath away, however, was the degree to which we improve with practice. If we're anything like the Iowa drivers studied then we're about three times better at the end of the winter than we were at the start. That's a pretty significant gain.

While not all of it is due to adaptation to bad conditions (some of the gain is surely from people deciding that the best course of action is not to drive), anything that helps us drive more safely seems like a no-brainer. Knowing what the road is like (wet, bedecked with black ice, slush, or snow) is helpful—if you know there's black ice ahead you will (if you are not insane or possessed of a death wish) be more circumspect that you'd be on a sunny day on a dry road.

Finally, I'll leave you with this page at the Physics Zone, where the physics of various types of car accidents are explained with illustrative QuickTime movies. Because you may not believe in physics, but it definitely believes in you.

If there's some road condition system you'd like to see, please scroll down and submit a comment!

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