Editor Column: 4-finger salutes and safe driving
Ahhhh … it’s that time of year again — winter in Tahoe. I spent my lunch hour on Tuesday driving from our Incline Village office of the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza to our Truckee office of the Sierra Sun. Normally a half-hour drive, the commute took a shade more than 45 minutes due to the blustery conditions as Tuesday’s mini snowstorm started to complicate things over Brockway Summit and on Interstate 80.
Growing up in Michigan, I am familiar with driving in the snow. But that did nothing to prepare me for a Tahoe winter, and my first one — the snow-rich winter of 2007-08 — made sure I understood that things would be different.
But I learned and adapted. Quickly. Because you can only go through so many bouts of shoveling pounds of snow for more than an hour — only to find the rock-hard layer of snow from the last storm is still there and will never allow your 4-cylinder, front-wheel drive, tiny Mercury Tracer to even get out of the driveway, let alone attack the roads — before your hand is forced.
So, six winters later, I’ve got a 4-wheel drive SUV with good tires and an increased wisdom as to what works and what doesn’t when traversing the gnarliest of highway passes.
It’s always those “what doesn’t” tactics and consequences that I see and marvel at on countless winter drives, and lunchtime on Tuesday was no exception. Here are a few highlights:
Three slide-offs on the slow trip from Brockway Summit toward Northstar — one car, one SUV and one big-rig semi (luckily, no one was apparently hurt and nothing was damaged).
The familiar site of chain check vans from Caltrans at the Northstar intersection on Highway 267, waving through chained-up cars and SUVs driven by locals who know how to give the familiar 4-finger salute…
… followed shortly by a passenger in an aggressive-driving SUV giving a just-as familiar 1-finger salute to the driver of a sedan that was obviously struggling on the snow and had to pull over (very slowly) off 267 in the Martis Valley.
A tow truck preparing to tow a Chrysler sedan (sans chains, and likely without snow tires) that had spun out and wrecked near the I-80 intersection.
And, of course, your typical scene of madness on I-80 — vehicles humming at 70 mph and blasting past 35-mph drivers; a few cars and SUVs spun off into the walls and dividers; the endless line of parked big rigs disposing of their chains after making it over Donner Summit; and so on.
Often, watching the inexperienced winter driver share the roads with the experienced can be comical. There’s no doubt several longtime residents and visitors have been in the same shoes as I was Tuesday, driving carefully and watching it all happen, at times chuckling as the sights unfolded.
But, alas, while it can be comforting in a way to poke fun while knowing deep inside “I’m a good driver in the snow,” it’s important we all remember that winter driving at Tahoe can be a dangerous game, and it never hurts to constantly remind people to be careful.
With that in mind, my point here is simple — please drive safe out there. I’d very much rather continue sharing funny stories than reporting on severe or fatal accidents this winter.
Kevin MacMillan is managing editor of the Sierra Sun and North Lake Tahoe Bonanza newspapers. He may be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin1MacMillan
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