I grew up on a farm 10 miles outside town, so I am pretty familiar with driving in less-than-desirable weather conditions. If the school buses weren’t running, we drove ourselves to school. If it was icy, we drove slow. And, to be safe, we always buckled up and made sure we had our snow boots, gloves, snow pants and a hat in the back seat.
Fast forward 15 years later, and I’m now working for the North Dakota Safety Council with a husband and son at home. Needless to say, my definition of safe has changed.
But, just because I work for the NDSC and safety is my job, doesn’t mean safe decisions come easily. Last week, I found myself stuck in unexpected blizzard conditions 45 miles from home. It was bitterly cold outside and zero visibility. But even I, Mrs. Safety (as my family so kindly calls me), found myself questioning whether or not I should pull over. Anyone with common sense would know that, if the weather man is reporting zero visibility, no travel advised by the NDDOT, and dangerous windchills – you should probably stay off the road. Still, thoughts kept running through my head like “Maybe it will get better as I get further west.”, and “Why isn’t anyone else pulling off?” Even more important questions such as “What clothes will I wear tomorrow if I stay overnight?” ran through my head, as well.
But, the road conditions got worse the further I drove. I struggled to hold my foot steady on the gas as the snow blinded me and the white lines disappeared from the road. I knew the dangers of pulling over on the side of the road, so I kept driving, praying to find an exit. Luckily, a semi guided me to an exit for a gas station. With my hands still trembling, I let out a sigh of relief as I put my car in park.
As I sat at that gas station, I watched numerous vehicles come and go. I would ask some of the drivers how bad the roads were. They would all say “HORRIBLE.” So, I’d ask them why they were getting back on the road and they’d simply reply, “What else am I supposed to do?” I started to feel like maybe I was overreacting by staying put. I mean, if they were all making the drive, why couldn’t I?
After about three and a half hours, two women walked in the gas station. I was on the phone with my husband trying to decide what to do when the gas station attendant started pointing to me. I got off the phone and he told me the two women were getting a motel room across the street. FINALLY, someone helped reaffirm my decision to stay put and stay SAFE.
I followed the two women across the street, paid $73 for my motel room, and slept through the remainder of the storm. I made it home by 7am the next day. I stopped by my son’s daycare and, as I hugged him, I thought about my decision to stay off the road. I’ll never know what would have happened if I had chosen to continue that drive. But at that moment, as he wrapped his arms around me, I knew I made the right choice.
I hope you never find yourself in a situation like I was. But, if you do, please don’t let the decisions of other drivers sway your decision to stay safe. Trust your gut instinct, and make the decision that is mostly likely to get you home safe.
Other winter driving tips from the NDSC:
- Before you leave, stock your vehicle with a winter survival kit.
- Check the weather report throughout the day.
- Make sure someone knows your estimated time of arrival and the route you plan to travel.
- Buckle up.
- Stay home. Don’t travel in bad weather if you don’t have somewhere you HAVE to be.