Extra caution must be taken to prevent dangerous springtime driving
Bone-jarring, teeth-rattling, coffee-spilling, tire-shredding, wheel-bending craters of vehicular doom lie in our paths. The appearance of potholes, like the arrival of the red winged blackbird — a specimen of which I spied last Sunday — heralds the true arrival of spring in the Huron Valley.
Spring brings April showers, which are forecast this week, which begs the question — are you properly equipped to deal with the rain?
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
How are those windshield wiper blades that doubled as an ice scraper and snowbrush when the winter winds blew? Remember when you were a little late, it was a little too cold or you forgot to put the ice scraper in your car and you wanted to shortcut the snow and ice removal process.
It seemed like a good plan and worked several times in the late fall. Believe me —I’m a lifelong Michigan resident, so I understand and do not judge.
Who has not tried to tactfully utilize their wiper blades, in conjunction with winter windshield washer fluid until the defroster could establish a beachhead on the bottom of the windshield? That small arc of clarity on the bottom of the windshield growing ever so slightly as precious moments ticked away.
Remember the couple of times you tried to use your wipers to remove heavy snow or light ice and you flipped the switch, heard the wiper arms try to lift the heavy load of snow or break the grip of the ice and they did not budge? Yeah... and now we die-hard Michiganders wonder why there is a huge unwiped streak perfectly positioned in our line of sight on the windshield.
Springtime is the right time to invest in a new set of wiper blades. Even though they might be expensive, seeing properly is a key element to safe operation of whatever vehicle you might drive.
Some products like Rain-X also can assist in keeping your vision clear on a rainy day. You must however have operational windshield wipers and a washer fluid pump to keep that windshield clear as I recently cautioned my son.
The occasion for fatherly advice came when my wife and I borrowed his pickup to run an errand. My son’s windshield was hazed over with road film so I hit the combo squirter and wiper button. The pump worked but the driver’s side wiper arm went up and dangled precariously while the passenger side wiper wiped away for three or four strokes.
“Dude, what’s up with your wiper?”
“Oh yeah dad, I forgot to tell you not to use the wipers. I just use Rain-X.”
“Great testimonial son, but even Rain-X can’t repel squashed bugs, dust and bird droppings," (not my word at the time, but more suitable for print).
Even I — who would rather work police overtime and pay John or Ron, my pals at Mallek’s Service, to fix the woes on my car correctly — fixed his wiper arm dilemma and dazzled my family with simulated mechanical aptitude. The bottom line here is that operational wipers are a must on any vehicle.
Good vision on the few sunny days we enjoy in Michigan is just as important. Keep the dust and other debris off your windshield and invest in a pair of good sunglasses. I prefer polarized sunglasses, which cut reflective glare, but any 100 percent UV filtered sunglasses will do.
Back to the rain and another lesson yours truly learned the hard way. Even if you have the best tires on the market, do not underestimate the potentially disastrous effects of hydroplaning on wet roads. Hydroplaning is not just a marketing tool to sell tires. It is real and it is terrifying, as I have experienced twice.
The first time was driving to an emergency call with lights and siren on, eastbound on Eisenhower at Boardwalk. I was approaching a red light and was braking for the intersection, and there suddenly were no brakes. God or the legion of guardian angels I have relied on for the last 30 years of police work, slid me through the intersection unscathed, but with my heart hammering.
The second time hydroplaning reared its ugly head was on eastbound I-94, just past the Jackson Avenue bridge and curve. I was driving a police car way too fast for the torrential downpour I was caught in. I passed a semi and caught the wind coming off the front of the truck. I got a wiggle because I was hydroplaning. The wiggle turned into a wobble as I tried to subtly steer, so as not to over-correct into the path of the semi. All the while I was sliding to my left and toward the cement median.
Once I hit the median, the damage had been done and my only thought was not bouncing back across the road into the path of the truck. So borrowing on 40-some years of watching auto racing both on television and at various tracks, I “kept it in the in the wall” and actually turned into the median.
I can report that even in a torrential downpour when you start scraping metal on a cement median, it emits a spectacular pyrotechnic display. I ground to a halt uninjured, but feeling really stupid. That was the only chargeable crash I had had on the road in almost 27 years at the Ann Arbor Police Department — I did however scrape a pillar in the police garage as a rookie as well.
That crash was completely my fault and easily avoidable. I was driving too fast for conditions. Take a lesson from my buffoonery—SLOW DOWN when roads are wet to avoid hydroplaning.
The other key to avoid hydroplaning is to make sure you have plenty of tread on your tires. Tires are expensive, but just how much is your personal safety and that of your family worth? Consider the deductible on your insurance you will also save if you stay in control and can steer around a crash. Make sure you have good tires on your vehicle.
Let’s enjoy even the April showers of spring and stay safe. Slow down, don’t drink and drive, and always BUCKLE UP.
Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.
Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for AnnArbor.com.