Friday, January 23, 2009

A Marriage In Traction

My wife and I are having another one of those silly arguments.

As usual, the topic itself isn’t very important, but being proven right will result in eternal validation of my soul and my identity.

So, I’m going to write a column articulating my point of view. That way, I can show it to her and say, “See? Even this guy in the newspaper agrees with me.”

It all started when we were trying to decide whether or not to venture out during a snowstorm. My wife said she wished we still had our Honda CR-V.

Like most Americans, she feels safer driving a big, four-wheel-drive SUV in the snow.

I say our little two-wheel drive Civic is just as safe, if not safer.

(Of course, the safest vehicles have snow tires, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, heat-seeking missiles, etc. But who has the time or money to keep changing tires or warheads every season of the year? So this debate eschews those options.)

I admit, my position is a bit unorthodox. But that doesn’t make it wrong.

To borrow an underused metaphor: anxiety about winter driving conditions is a virus. This virus has clogged the nasal passages of common sense. To alleviate the pressure, you have taken the Sudafed of misunderstanding. You feel better, but the medicine actually hinders your body’s natural defenses. Only the chicken soup of logic will finally restore your health.

So please, hear me out:

Sure, the four-wheel-drive gives you better traction when accelerating. But accelerating is rarely a safety concern, unless you’re trying to outrun something, like a snowplow whose driver has gone crazy from 84 hours without sleep.

Winter weather accidents result from sliding in an undesirable direction when stopping or steering, and the four-wheel-drive won’t help you in those departments.

In fact, a heavier vehicle requires more stopping distance. All else being equal, you can halt your momentum more quickly in a small car than you can in a large one.

If you’re worried about getting stuck, I suppose something with four-wheel-drive is a better choice. But getting stuck isn’t really a safety concern, unless you’re too far away from civilization to get help.

My wife may long for the traction our old car had, but not sliding at all on slippery roads creates a false sense of confidence. If the road doesn’t feel slippery, you become less cautious and attentive to your speed.

This is why, during a typical snowstorm, most of the vehicles you see off the road (at least those not driven by the young and the reckless) are four-wheel-drive pickups whose owners thought they were so high and mighty that they were immune to all the basic laws of physics.

I say it’s better to have a sense of what your real stopping and steering capabilities are, based on the overall handling of the car.

Anyway, I haven’t managed to make a lot of traction with my wife on this issue, so it would be great if everyone reading this could email me about how right I am.

Some of you loyal readers (Mom?) might remember the last time I disagreed with my wife on a vehicular issue; I ended up a humiliated victim on NPR’s “Car Talk.”

I could use a little redemption, ideally before she makes the appointment to get those missiles installed.

No comments: