Wednesday, February 9, 2011

In the wake of the worst commute, should we be doing more to train our motorists?

On Wednesday, January 29th, many of us were trapped in what had to be one of the worst traffic situations we have had in a while here in the DC. Hundreds of cars were left abandoned and people were trapped on their commutes for more than 12 hours as a heavy, wet snow fell on the DC metro area, preceded by a rain that managed to clear away all semblance of pre-treatment on the roads.

During my 2.5 hour drive to cover about 4.5 miles in DC, I saw motorists getting stuck in snow that was clearly too tall for their vehicle's ground clearance. I saw impatient motorists driving their cars around stranded motorists only to get stranded themselves, creating further gridlock. I saw many motorists struggling to get up grades of any size, many attempting to claw their way up, only to get stuck or slide back down when they were forced to brake for another vehicle in front.

For an area like DC, where there is snow during the winters, it seems that many drivers are ill-prepared for the rigors of driving when the flakes begin to fall from the sky. As someone who has a RWD car with a LSD and fitted with summer only performance tires (I know, it's dumb, but we've managed okay so far), and despite growing up in CA (where I never even saw snow, much less had to drive in it), I had a stressful time, but managed to nurse my car home that day. I can attribute my good fortune to an understanding of the physics of driving, a mechanically well sorted car, and the advanced driver training I have received over the years learning to drive high-performance cars. Being able to safely control a car even when the tail threatens to kick out at any throttle application played a big part in getting me home that night.

So all this leads me to wonder, should we be doing more to prepare our drivers for those freak occurrences when all the planning in the world goes awry? Should we be offering more advanced training to all drivers and requiring that all drivers pass a more vigorous driving requirement in order to avoid the chaos that seems to take place whenever precipitation falls from the sky?