What were you thinking?
Yes, you who were driving the speed limit on ice-covered roads and lost control of your vehicle, or almost did?
Yes, you who accelerated too fast at an intersection and slid?
You who took a turn too fast and fish-tailed?
And you who were driving too close to another vehicle and struck them from behind or slipped across the highway as you braked?
I saw you all. And I was mortified.
Maybe you’re one of the dozens and dozens of people involved in a crash on icy roads in South Mississippi since Tuesday night. Chances are, you went slip-sliding away because you or the other driver didn’t think about how to drive in hazardous road conditions.
Like slowing down. Way down. Leaving extra space between the car ahead of you. Coasting to a stop instead of braking in advance. Not hitting the brakes if you run across a slick spot.
Those of us on the Mississippi Coast rarely experience such cold and ice. But I presume we all studied a driver’s manual at one time. And maybe you’ve heard recent news reports warning about the danger of icy roads.
If the weather’s bad enough to close schools, businesses and bridges, it’s bad enough for you to take how you drive more seriously.
If I sound stern, it’s for good reasons.
For one, reporting on public safety is part of my job. I write about tragic crashes, many of which could have been avoided. I report on safety precautions provided by law enforcement. It concerns me to see drivers who don’t think about weather and road conditions.
If you drive the speed limit on an icy road, you are a dangerous driver. There. I said it.
For two, driving to work this morning on ice-covered roads scared me spitless. From the time I got on U.S. 49 in Lyman, north of Gulfport, and got off on Crossroads Boulevard, the entire stretch of highway was white with ice. Miles of ice, and part of my fear was of other drivers.
I’ve never driven in so much ice. Some co-workers last night psyched me up, reminding me to drive very slowly, especially on bridges. Even if my reduced speed ticked off other drivers. (Which it did.)
I called a police source this morning to check on the best possible route to work.
“It’s all dangerous,” he said, suggesting I keep my speed at 20 mph or less and go slower around curves.
Public safety officials have urged drivers to stay off the road during this spell of a hard freeze with winter precipitation. I decided to practice what law enforcement preaches. I slowed down. Way down.
I was surprised at the number of people who drove at or near the speed limit. I was surprised at the number of drivers who passed me.
I made it to work safely. A trip of 25 to 30 minutes, depending on traffic, took me 50 minutes. I arrived alive and with no scratches or dents on my car.
If you remember only one thing, remember this: Speed limits are for dry, clear weather and road conditions. Not for fog. Not for heavy rain. Definitely not for icy roads. The speed limit sign may say 55 or 65 mph, but that doesn’t mean it’s a safe speed during a hard freeze.
So I plead with drivers who don’t slow down on icy or wet roads. What will it take for you to slow down and use extreme caution?
We’re facing another night or two with sub-freezing temperatures and a wind chill factor (or real-feel) in the teens. Roads that froze overnight Tuesday could freeze again.
You may consider yourself a safe driver. But if you don’t slow down on icy roads, you are not. Your misplaced self-assurance can hurt or kill someone or cost you your own life. At best, you could be held accountable for property damages. Either way, first responders will brave the elements to come to your aid.
So will you please slow down and be careful?