By John Matonich
It was a long ago when yours truly took driver education. I have written before about that experience, but I feel it’s time to remind folks of one of the first lessons we learned in that class. I believe it was the first day of class when the instructor made a point of teaching us about the “Basic Speed Law.” Essentially what he said was that no matter what the speed limit on the road was posted, we should never drive faster than weather and road conditions allowed. He also made a point that violating this basic premise was not only illegal but could be life-threatening. As I see folks travel these days, I can’t help but think about how right he was.
I spent much of my life downstate on the road. It wasn’t unusual for me to travel 35,000 to 40,000 miles a year and never leave Michigan. I also had a hard time finding the patience necessary to handle the traffic and weather. I was always looking for ways to shave off even a few minutes on a trip. It was always a challenge for me to do that. I wasn’t a big speeder, but I did push what I felt was a safe speed to keep the officers at bay.
Today I don’t travel anywhere near as much but still manage to put about 20K on my vehicles traveling back and forth to my shop and to camp each year. I still look for ways to trim some time off the trip, but as I get older my patience is also larger in quantity and because I am retired, I don’t seem to have the deadline issues I once had to get somewhere. I do see folks continue to push hard as they travel and it concerns me when they ignore the sound advice of being mindful of the weather and road conditions.
We recently saw a pretty good speed limit increase on a number of the state highways here in the area and while it has been a big help moving folks around; those speed limit increases don’t mean diddly when there is 3” of snow on the road. We had had a rash of bad accidents here and about all of them are founded in over-driving the conditions.
As a reminder, here are some basic rules to follow when the weather isn’t as good as it could be:
- Just because the speed limit is 65, don’t be naïve to think the road can always handle those speeds. When the weather sucks, typically so does the road.
- The last button you should ever push when the roads are bad is the cruise control. Nothing can throw you in the brush quicker than having your car accelerate by itself just as your passing over an ice patch.
- If you are tired, pull over and take a break. I would rather take a little more time to get someplace than not get there at all.
I know this sounds like something everyone should know, but I can tell you that I have seen a lot of pieces of cars and trucks strewn over the road this year from folks who pushed it a little too hard as well as reading the accounts in the local paper the next day about folks who weren’t going to ever make it home again.
It isn’t just on the roadways where these principles apply. This is the time of year when snowmobilers from a number of states come to our area to take advantage of some great trails and scenery. Unfortunately, some don’t get to come back. We lost a rider just the other day. A resident of Nebraska was in the area with friends enjoying the trails and the lake when she lost control of her snowmobile and it left the trail on the lake and crashed into some large rocks and trees on the shore. She didn’t survive the crash. There still is a pit in my stomach from reading about the accident. I didn’t know the rider but still feel terrible that it happened. The local officials reported that speed and weather were factors in this tragic accident.
No one should have to experience anything but good memories when they travel, so please do me a favor and don’t forget the Basic Speed Law. Slow down and pay attention to conditions whenever and wherever you travel. I want you to arrive safely so you can read more of my ramblings in the future.
And that’s the situation as I survey it …