An Ice Road Trucker Shares His Tips For Safe Winter Driving
BY MANDY DONOVAN
And you thought your commute was tough. The History Channel show features truckers hauling cargo across “ice roads” (frozen bodies of water). Image courtesy of the History Channel.
Despite the unpredictable weather these days, there are certain areas of the country where you can count on having to navigate in snow and ice all the time. And even some places you wouldn’t expect (like Texas?!) have seen their fair share of wintry road conditions.
The best thing to do may be to snuggle in for a Netflix binge and avoid driving altogether, but you can’t hibernate ALL winter long. The important thing is to be prepared and know what to do to drive safely, avoid slippery situations, and react the right way to slips and slides.
We couldn’t think of a better person to talk to about winter driving than Alex Debogorski, Ice Road Trucker.
If you’ve seen the History Channel show Ice Road Truckers, you’ll know Alex is considered an ice road legend. For 40 years (and nine reality TV seasons), he’s been driving on some seriously thin ice. His work takes him to frozen roads in Alaska, Canada, and the Arctic, where temperatures reach 40 below. Sometimes, a delivery just has to get there, so Alex and other Ice Road Truckers must drive (verrrrrrrry carefully) across frozen lakes and rivers—without their rigs, cargo, or butts falling into the icy waters beneath.
While you and your Zipcar should have a considerably easier time, driving safely in unsafe weather is an acquired skill. Here’s what Alex had to say about braving the wintery roads.
For 40 years (and nine reality TV seasons) Alex Debogorski has been braving snow-covered roads, iced-over lakes, and generally bad driving conditions.
1) Zipcar:What are your top tips for driving in snowy conditions?
Alex: Winter driving tips? Wear underwear. Especially if you’re driving in cars you don’t know. I’m talking long johns, now. Also…
Most important: have windshield wipers. You’ve got to have good windshield wipers and washer fluid. You need that. Washer fluid will freeze at 32, so you need all-season windshield washer fluid.
Get good headlights. It’s darker in wintertime, so make sure your lights go on and aren’t covered by snow. You want to see, but want other people to see you, as well, so wipe off your headlights and taillights.
Make sure all the lights are working, that the car has antifreeze, and has been serviced for winter. [Fun editor’s note: Zipcar services our cars before you get there to make them ready for winter. If there are any problems, you should call us and we’ll get it fixed or move you to a new car right away.]
Check your tires. Snow or all-season tires have bigger grips to grab snow so you don’t get stuck.
Make sure all the windows are cleaned off—not just a little hole you can see out of. Get the snow off the roof, too.
Dress warmly. That way, you can survive if you go into a snow bank and are standing beside your car waiting for help.
If you do get stuck, get out and make sure the exhaust is not covered up. You don’t want to be sitting in your car and have carbon monoxide get into the cabin. Your body will breathe carbon monoxide before oxygen and that can kill ya. Make ya go to sleep.
2) What about steering on ice or snow? What should you do if you go into a slide?
Say your prayers and hang on tight!
Nah, what you’re saying is you’re already out of control. The idea is don’t get out of control. Don’t do anything too quickly or hard. Don’t brake quick or hard. Don’t turn too quick. Turn gradually. Don’t accelerate hard.
Cars are easier to drive these days, so drivers are poorer now. They rely on all-wheel drive, and anti-lock brakes. All-wheel drive accelerates well on ice, but you need to stop, too.
Drive slow. If you’re passing a lot of people who are driving slow in the right lane, you’re probably going too fast. They may be going slow for a reason. Slow down whenever there’s inclement weather: fog, rain, snow, or ice.
Ice Road Trucker Safety Tip: Go Slow! Don’t wind up like this rolled truck Alex came upon and stopped to help.
3) How important is confidence in managing hairy situations behind the wheel?
Scary/hairy, either one.
Well, I am hairy, so I get that. If you’re too scared, don’t go out there. Stay put! Don’t take chances. Get a hotel room and a bottle of wine, and just wait ‘til the roads are clear. Be prepared. If you’re still nervous about driving in the weather, don’t do it.
4) Have you ever been afraid for your life behind the wheel?
Yeah, one time when my car wouldn’t stop rolling and it went upside down. Looks like a kaleidoscope and you don’t know what you’re seeing until you stop moving.
One time I couldn’t stop and hit a train. Had to jump out and push off the tracks. That was three days before my sixteenth birthday.
5) What about on the show?
Well, the cameras are scary. But the scariest part is when you come up on accidents and have to try to do first aid. Once on the show there was that guy with his throat cut. He rolled his truck and I came up on him and I had to stop the bleeding. That was scary. Or on the ice road when two trucks collided and I had to help. When people get hurt. That can get scary.
Alex: This is for Zipcar you said? [Editor's note: Alex is up in Alaska, where Zipcars don't currently live.]
Alex: What is it? An app?
Zipcar: Yes, you can reserve cars with your smartphone.
Alex: That sounds like an interesting idea. I’m gonna check that out.
For more tips to drive safely out there this winter, check out zip safely.