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.
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.
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 (http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/weather/q1_roadimpact.htm). 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:
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.
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:
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.
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. Doityourself.com had a number of interesting tips for winter drivers (http://www.doityourself.com/stry/winterdrivingtips#b):
- 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.
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.
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.