Daylight Assault

I had a number of long drives last week. Friday’s one seemed particularly treacherous. There was ice and snow and very low temperatures, but it wasn’t any of these things that brought the main hazard. They were bad but not too bad. The roads were gritted and, so long as you were happy to roll along without pushing things too hard, you were generally going to get there all right.

No, the ice and snow were fine.

It was the glorious sunshine that was the killer.

On an early-morning drive, as with every other place in the world, the sun comes up in the east and sails across the sky until it goes down again somewhere over in the west. The extremity of these two points is considerably reduced in the depth of winter but one thing remains pretty constant: the sun will come from the south at noon. So, if you’re driving south in a fairly straight line, you can try to take some comfort that the sun won’t shine straight in on you until close to midday. And it will be pretty high in the sky by then.

And, of course, you would be completely false in this comfort-taking.

Because no road runs straight from north to south. Roads bend and curve. They veer to the east and they veer to the west on their relentless journey south. And when they veer west, the sun is on your left and everything is cool. But when the road veers east, then the road can align with the early morning sun, sometimes briefly, sometimes for an extended run. And that’s when things can get a little messy. That’s when shit can happen.

Several factors were at work on Friday’s early morning drive south. There was ice and snow still around and, as I said, they weren’t so bad on their own. But they were bright and reflective, as was the shiny blacktop of the two-lane motorway. The sky was a cloudless and translucent blue. The roads were gritted and the cars and trucks on the road were throwing mud and tiny debris onto the windscreen of their comrade vehicles. Finally, and perhaps crucially, the temperature outside was three below and, unless you were driving some fancy-ass Mercedes, that meant your windscreen washers were probably frozen.

So, picture it, you’re driving along, south, south, south, and your windscreen is smeared and grotty, so you try the washers again but they’re still frozen. You can see the tiny ice sculpture on the spout on the bonnet. It’s fine, though. You can see your way ahead, well enough and, now and again, a tiny smattering of moisture lands from somewhere and gives you just enough to squeak the wipers across and clear a little of the smear away.

All is okay.

But then, slowly, the two lanes ease to the left in a gentle curve and slowly, inexorably, the road turns towards the sun.

The sun is low in the sky, having just recently risen and it is exaggeratedly intense in the winter air. The road aligns with the sun, and, in that moment, the windscreen of the car becomes an opaque wall of brightness. Nothing can be seen.

The action is clear. Hazards on, fog lights on, slow to a crawl as quickly as humanly possible and pray to something that the car behind doesn’t simply careen into your rear. Now you can just make out the car in front and you keep a distance that will allow you to stop if he or she crashes into the car in front.

Up ahead, out of the glare, two cars are stopped on the hard shoulder. Damaged and spun 180 degrees and facing back home rather wistfully. People are out of their cars, looking okay. Cars crawl by in the outside lane, glad it’s not them.

The road turns, turns until it is southward again, the sun once more relegated to the left side window, where it cannot do any harm. But soon, the road will turn again, as all roads do. The sun will come back around. The deadly game will be played again.

A stop in the hard shoulder. A hack at the spouts of the windscreen washers to knock the icebergs off. A shine of the windscreen with a cloth. And a bottle of costly mineral water dispensed into the washer tank under the hood, the warmth of which finally gets the mechanism working again. An expensive solution, perhaps, but better than a whiplash and a car turned prematurely for home. Or worse… so much worse.

A moral for this story? Your guess is as good as mine. Beware the sun, perhaps. Don’t drive any faster than you can see.

Perhaps the best thing is to borrow one from good old ‘Hill Street Blues.’

“Let’s be careful out there.”

And leave it at that.

1 comment:

Jim Murdoch said...

It’s when I read stories like that, I’m glad (so glad!) my driving days are done. When the DVLC wrote to ask me if I wanted to renew my license I never thought twice; I dropped them a quick note thanking them but declining to take up their kind offer. I had a short-lived job once delivering suntan lotion to chemists from the north of England to the very north of Scotland. I actually enjoyed it especially since most were happy to take the boxes and not make me fill the shelves (apart from the bastard manager of a Newcastle Woolworths who not only made me fill his huge display but wouldn’t let me start work until the shop opened to the public). I think it was on the way down there I went through a similar situation to you only I didn’t have water, so I ended up filling the skoosher-thing with snow and hoping for the best. Horrible, horrible, horrible. I did like driving but was never lucky with vehicles. Perhaps if I could’ve afforded to buy a new car I might’ve fared better but I never paid more than £1800 for a car and most were half that price or less.