The thermometer read 14 degrees when I left the house today. That’s a stark contrast to the balmy, 70 degree drive home I enjoyed on Friday afternoon. A cold front descended on West Texas this weekend. There wasn’t much precipitation; just enough to make things interesting and driving a little dangerous yesterday morning. Just enough to create patches of black ice.
While dry streets are obviously preferred, heavy rain or snow are much better for driving than the spotty conditions presented by black ice. With the really bad stuff, you know how to prepare, and you can be reasonably sure that other drivers will be just as cautious as you are. But black ice is different as it masquerades as dry pavement. The thin layer of ice allows the dark coloring of the road surface to show though, giving you a false sense of security. Often, you don’t know it’s there until it’s too late. Even if you do see it coming. It can be difficult to navigate.
We have patches of black ice at work too, don’t we? Again, I’m not talking about the “all hands on deck” type of emergencies. I’m talking about the random slick spots that we don’t see coming; the technical hiccups, the upset or demanding customer, the corporate demands that blindside us. Navigate them incorrectly, and you can spin out of control. Handled them properly though, and you can continue on to your original destination with little impact.
When you encounter one of these slick spots, the first thing you should do is put both hands on the wheel. Typical driving involves a lot of multitasking. We adjust the radio and climate controls. We drink our coffee and finish off a breakfast sandwich. But at the first sign that something is off, we need both hands on the wheel. This one act focuses our minds on the immediate situation. We can feel changes in road conditions through the steering wheel and react more quickly to changes that we sense. The simple decision to focus brings all of our resources to bear on navigating safely through the slick spot.
Next, we need to take our foot off of the gas. Make sure you read that correctly. Don’t step on the brakes and don’t accelerate. Either of those actions can make the problem worse. Hit the brakes, and you’ll create new problems as the car will quickly spin out of control. This endangers everyone around you. Trying to go faster will result in your spinning your wheels. You’ll waste a lot of effort with no result. The goal is to keep moving. Just ease off a little bit. Once the danger has passed, resume normal speed.
Finally, steer the vehicle in the right direction. A tendency is to over-correct. If the car starts sliding left, we want to jerk the wheel hard to the right. This is a recipe for disaster as once the immediate threat is over, you find yourself barreling in another wrong direction. Instead, we need to keep the wheel pointed in the direction we ultimately want to go. Keep your eyes on the desired destination and avoid the temptation to over-steer because of a single little unsteady patch.
Even when the road ahead looks to be clear, there are a million little decisions to make in order to reach our goal safely. And while it may be comfortable to set the cruise control and relax, we have to remain vigilant. When you’re behind the wheel, it’s important to make sure you are prepared to deal with the unexpected. Having the right plan ensures you can tackle whatever the road throws at you.