I made a few observations resulting in some driving thoughts during a recent round-trip to Pullman. It was an early morning departure via U.S. Highway 195.
The day offered a perfect scenario for heavy frost: air saturated with moisture, foggy, with an outside temperature around 20 degrees. My first thought was that “white ice” would be a more formidable moniker for road frost since its slickness factor can rival that of dreaded “black ice” (clear ice coating on roadway). Nearly everyone affords due respect to “black ice,” but mere road frost does not sound as foreboding.
Frost is truly “white ice,” its visible whiteness borne of ice crystals. As a result, I saw one vehicle slide-off early in the trip while heading down hatch road toward the highway. As I’ve often written, safe drivers must learn to “read” the road for factors which can lead to loss of tire adhesion to the roadway (like frost).
On the highway, there was no frost but the road surface gave off a vicious sun glare — both situations the result of a heavy dose of liquid de-icer applied by the Department of Transportation. Yes, most drivers want to drive on ice-free roads, but I often question the flagrant use of the melting chemical. In this case, as evidenced further up the road (where no melter was applied), the morning sun had already turned the night’s frosty road to bone dry with no glare. The de-icer takes many hours to evaporate, so the glare and slicker-than-dry roadway remained most of the day.
Without de-icer there was still frost in the shady areas and on bridges, but those areas don’t appear without advance warning. A safe driver who “reads” the road can anticipate those areas and adjust speed and driving actions to accommodate them.
So while I appreciate the DOT’s work to keep roads safe, I often question what I deem the overuse of the caustic, corrosive liquid chemical melting product.
Speaking of safety, the next thing I was reminded of (and thankful for) during my trip was the generous placement of new passing lanes for traffic travelling in both directions. In the past, even on “normal” days (no football game or graduation) highway traffic was plentiful enough to create “parades” of cars and trucks numbering 15 and greater. Now, the long double-lane passing section heading north past Rosalia looks like a four-lane freeway, catering to both slower and faster drivers easily and safely. Short of making the whole route four-lane, the DOT has vastly improved safety and lessened unsafe passing in two-lane areas with the addition of multiple passing lane segments from Spangle to Colfax.
The bad news is that despite El Nino or the use of liquid de-icer, drivers here will encounter more slick roads this winter— the good news is that motor vehicles can safely negotiate them (whether rain, frost, ice or snow) by adjusting speed, then braking, turning and accelerating with anticipation and smoothness. “Gentle” is the key word when applying input to the steering wheel, brakes and accelerator pedal on slickened surfaces.
Also remember: Four-wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles depart from stops well and climb grades more easily than their two-wheel drive counterparts — they may even turn a little better — but they still require anticipation and adequate distance to stop when it’s slick.
All drivers need to adjust speed according to conditions.
Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.