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January 10, 2013, Thursday

Driving in snow

Certain parts of Turkey have been blanketed in snow over the past few days. Driving in the snow requires a few skills which are not usually practiced on the roads in Turkey.

The three key elements to safe winter driving are: stay alert, slow down and stay in control.

Turkish drivers are notorious for talking or texting while driving, even in snowy conditions. To get through a day in İstanbul traffic without an accident in nice weather, the person behind the wheel has to be assertive. Yes, there are rules for who has the right of way (for example, at a traffic circle, vehicles joining from the right have priority), but the unspoken rule here is that whoever gets their nose out first has the right of way.

How are your driving skills in Turkey? How do you feel about driving in İstanbul in nice weather? How about in the snow?

I'd like to take this opportunity to remind İstanbul drivers of some tips when driving in the snow and on ice.

If you can purchase some snow tires, you will have an easier time driving in bad weather as braking will be better and staying in control on slippery surfaces will be easier. Having snow tires is mandatory for certain types of vehicles. Tires are checked when you take your vehicle for an annual check-up at TÜVTURK, or vehicle inspection stations.

Many drivers in İstanbul are not used to winter driving conditions such as rain, snow and ice. All these dramatically affect the braking distance of a vehicle. It is all about tire traction and, in order to stop safely, all your vehicle's wheels have to maintain traction by remaining in contact with the road surface while rolling. The keys to safety on slippery winter roads are slower speeds, gentler stops and turns and increased following distances. I was taught that you should reduce your speed to half the posted speed limit or less under snowy road conditions.

Giving your car space to slide is important. You know that most streets here barely have enough room for one car, let alone two, to pass each other. And it doesn't help that drivers park on sidewalks and streets where there is no room to park. Although the municipality has been very creative with the placement of a variety of items such as poles, chains or cannon balls along the sides of streets, it is hard to stop cars from parking dangerously. How often have you seen a driver squeeze through a tight spot and then give a panicked look and mouth the words on their phones that they have just scrapped someone's car and will be late?

It is not only driving in the snow that can be dangerous, but just driving in İstanbul! In my piece “Can't that conversation wait?” (Jan. 8, 2010), I made the following tongue-in-cheek suggestions to help İstanbul traffic and reduce accidents.

Lane assignments: This is based on competency. Right! If you could wish for anything, wouldn't it be nice if the fast lane actually lived up to its name? I wonder if the idea of lane assignments based on competency is not worth considering.

Here is how it would work:

Any driver who should not be, but insists on driving, should be banished to the far right lane.

Any driver who really does not know how fast they want to go, restrict them to the far right lane.

Anyone who insists on driving intoxicated or under the influence of glue, etc., should be confined to the right.

Everyone who talks on their mobile phones while driving and, even worse, texting while driving? Move them to the far right, too!

I'd be interested to know if you think zigzagging motorbikes should be restricted to the far right. Certainly slow trucks should be.

The result: Other lanes could then be made available to those of us who want to focus on driving and getting where we would like to safely.

I can never understand why conversations and messages can't wait until you can pull over. What do you think?

These days the İstanbul municipality is working hard to spread sand and salt on the major roads. Spreading salt prevents snow and ice from bonding to the road surface. Sand on the road is helpful because it provides traction on slippery surfaces. This plays a big role in keeping roads safe, but we drivers have to do our part as well.

To help reduce accidents, I just want to remind drivers to be careful, particularly on hills, curves, bridges, intersections and on snow-packed roads.

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