So the theme I chose/was assigned was winter driving. The first thing I'd need to answer, before I even thought about research, was "what is winter driving?". Is it just the physical act of driving in the winter (getting from point A to point B)? Or is it the entire experience of owning and using a car in the winter (so it would include stuff like scrapping ice off your windshield in the morning, snow emergencies, and so on)?

I don't know if this is a cop out, but I decided to focus on both. I thought it would maximize the number of pain points and opportunities that I'd be able to explore over the last couple of weeks of the class. So, with that in mind, let's dive into the research.

Secondary research:
I ran into one hurdle right away--we still haven't had much snow yet this winter in Minnesota. Observation and experience were essentially out the window. What I decided to do instead was secondary research on winter driving statistics and any winter driving user modifications or adaptations already in use.

Quantitative research
The first place I went was to the U.S Department of Transportation's website to learn about the impact of weather on road conditions ( The most surprising piece of data I found was that 75% of all weather-related crashes--and 77% of all weather-related fatalities--were caused by wet pavement and rain conditions, NOT snow. Intuitively, you'd think snowy/icy conditions would be the most dangerous condition, but the numbers say otherwise. Why? I think part of the reason rain incidents are proportionally higher is that large portions of the United States don't even receive snow, so rainy conditions are over-represented. I also think people are quicker to modify their driving behavior in snow than in other conditions.

To support that last hypothesis, here's some data DOT shared on the impact weather conditions have on traffic flow:

wd data.jpg

Wow. Those are some pretty drastic reductions when you compare the impact of rain to snow. A 64% free flow reduction for snow to just a 17% reduction for rain? DOT even estimated the impact these slowdowns have on our economy. Twenty-three percent of all non-rush hour delays are caused by snow, ice, and fog. This amounts to 544 million vehicle-hours of delay per year. To put that number in perspective, that's the hourly equivalent of over a quarter million full-time jobs in a year.

Qualitative research
Now that we have a better grasp on the numbers, I went to YouTube to add a qualitative, observational element to my research process. I wanted to see some examples of people doing some actual winter driving:

yt screen 2.jpg

yt screen.jpg

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I'm not sure about the social implications of that last one, but there you have it.

After immersing myself in the world of winter driving challenges, I decided to see how an expert does it.

yt screenshot.jpg

This video featured professional ice driver Andrew McKenna, who seemed like the kind of person who might know a thing or two about winter driving. He had a couple of tips on how to deal with slippery surfaces:

  • Winter driving is all about weight transfer (weight is in the front when you're braking, weight is in the back when you're accelerating), so the key is having a balanced throttle. Don't stab at the gas or the brake. It has to be smooth, and should "blend in" with the movement of the car
  • Look where you want to go, not at what you want to avoid. The minute you fixate on what you think you're going to hit, you will hit it.
  • Don't panic. Look for a way around the obstacle.
  • Following distances double or triple in icy conditions.

Now that I had a pretty good picture on the actual act of driving in the winter, I wanted to look a little more into the overall experience. had a number of interesting tips for winter drivers (

  • If your locks freeze in the winter, use a match or lighter to warm your key. Or put your key as far in as it will go, then burn a piece of paper near the key.
  • If you don't have an ice scraper, a kitchen spatula or the edge of a credit card can work in a pinch.
  • Wash your car's carpets and floor mats with one part vinegar, two parts water to remove salt.
  • Keep a couple of asphalt roof shingles in your trunk to provide traction in case you get stuck in the snow.

Primary research:
For the primary research portion of this assignment, I went to the Ridgedale Center to ask shoppers about their experiences driving in the winter.

One of the first people who was nice enough to speak with me was Karen. Karen is in her mid-20s, lives in the Uptown area, and commutes downtown for work. Last winter, she had to park her car outside on the street. From speaking with her, street parking was clearly the source of her biggest pain points. Every morning, she had to scrape ice off of her car windshield, which grew tiresome after 50th or 60th day in a row. It was already cold outside, and this only added to her misery.

She had also had problems keeping track of snow emergencies earlier in the year (like when they were declared, where she could park, etc.), but a friend had turned her on to the city of Minneapolis' "Parking Rules" app. He also told her how she could sign up for text message alerts. Once she had those two things squared away, snow emergencies weren't as confusing. She said they were still a hassle, though, as they made finding parking much more difficult.

Another person I spoke with was Lynda. Lynda was a 40-something mother who lives in the Minnetonka area. She commuted to Eagan for work. Since she kept her car in a garage, it sounded like she didn't share many of Karen's pain points. Her biggest issue was her commute. On the days when it snowed, it could turn her 25-minute commute into a multi-hour ordeal. Her husband worked closer to home, so fortunately someone could always be home in time for the kids, but it usually meant they'd have to order out for food (something they didn't really have the budget for) or her husband would just have to make sandwiches for dinner.

Problem statements:
Karen needs a way to find a place to park her car during snow emergencies, because driving around looking for a spot after a long day of work is exhausting.

Lynda needs a better way to adjust her family's routine when there's unforeseen bad weather, because she wants her kids to be well-fed and able to focus on their homework.


Overall, your blog has a really engaging conversational style. This keeps the reader interested and makes the content more rewarding to get through.

I appreciate that you did secondary background research to supplement your lack of first-hand observation and experience. You did a good job incorporating statistics as well as videos to supplement your findings. To add to this data that you found, maybe you could have added any personal experiences you have that are relevant to give it a first-hand touch.

I liked that you went out and found random people to talk to about your subtheme. This gave you very different perspectives on the topic. You could have tried to talk to these people a little more in depth, or maybe found someone you could sit down with for a longer period of time. I think the interviews you have here do give you some interesting points to delve deeper into, such as the snow emergency parking, longer commutes, and family time implications.

Hello, I think your style of writing the blog post was very conversational and it really keeps the reader engaged! The statistics table is also a very cool touch. I think the bit about rain related crashes may not be just for southern states like you surmised though. In my personal experience people I know, and once even myself, have crashed or slid off the road because rain combined with snow makes horrid driving conditions. Just because it is cold does not mean snow is the only thing falling from the sky. I think doing some research on different automobiles and how they handle severe conditions would have been an added benefit to your post as well. The video of the BMW being a bad winter car is in large part because the wheels are too wide and don't have enough tread, as well as the car is geared to go really fast during prime conditions. Typical 4-door sedans do fairly well in winter months because they are designed to handle a much broader range of conditions and maintain stability. The tip about heating the car key with burning paper is a cool idea! I think if you dig further you will find many more practical solutions for things just like that! Finally, I liked the randomness of your interviewees. I only wish the interviews were more in depth.

Hello there,

I think you did a pretty good job of doing observations and research despite the lack of snow. Looking on youtube was a good idea, and it was good to get the tips from the expert. I learned a few things from both the expert and the doityourself guide.

However, I think you really could have talked to more people. Even though the assignment specified strangers, I think having someone you knew for a third interviewee would have been useful. Also, if you have driven during the winter, it would have been good to reflect on your own experiences. So I think a few more interviews or deeper ones would have been useful.

I also think the aspect of cleaning the snow off the car could have been another needs statement. At least, that's one of my biggest difficulties when I have to drive during the winter. Also, cars will get stuck in the snow sometimes.

Overall, you did a good job and I was impressed with the way you got around the lack of experience and observation aspects. I think you got a lot out of the information you had, which was interesting and useful.

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This page contains a single entry by mixer014 published on November 11, 2013 9:38 AM.

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