Christmas Day skiing for years was a father-son tradition in my family. Most areas are open and it is a great way to get some fresh air and exercise before late day family gatherings. But, like all outdoor activities that include driving, be especially careful coming home from the ski hill. I speak from experience.
Five years ago on Christmas afternoon, I drifted off I-87 and ended up clipping a guard rail, collapsing the left front tire well and disabling the car. I spent more than two hours being towed off the highway and waiting until I could be picked up and taken home. What a way to spend the holiday.
Now I could claim it was bad weather that day. But no. It had been a sunny day and the road was dry and clear. I could blame it on too much holiday cheer. But no. I went from the slopes to the lodge for my gear then straight to the car for my ride home. What happened? Drowsy Driving!
Drowsy driving is an issue that is getting a lot more public attention these days. Recently, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles and the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee held a public meeting in Albany to discuss the problem. The major causes they identified were "too little sleep" and "too many hours behind the wheel." I think there are other factors at work here and skiers coming home from a day on the slopes are particularly vulnerable.
Consider my accident. I had slept well the night before. I was on the road for just 40 minutes, and the strongest beverage I had that day was hot chocolate. Here is what I think happened. When skiing, you are outdoors anywhere from three to six hours. Chances are you are dressed for the weather. But nonetheless, it is cold. Then it is time to drive home. You get into a car that has been sitting outside all day. You blast the heater. Now you are on the road. It is late afternoon and the light begins to fade. If you were lucky and it was a perfect, cloudless day, chances are that at this time of year you are heading home into the sunset. Maybe you start to squint.
You get the picture.
I was lucky. While the left front end of my car was chewed up pretty badly, no one was hurt. In fact the air bags didn't go off. But I learned a lesson about drowsy driving that day.
New York State says there are more than 1,000 crashes each year attributable to drowsy driving. My guess is the number is much higher. But I still ski and I still drive home from the slopes, often in the late afternoon.
What I do differently now is always stop about halfway on the trip home. Even if I am feeling alert, I stop, get out of the car, and walk around for a minute or more. If I feel tired on the remainder of the trip, I do it again, no matter how close to home I am. I try always to ski with at least one other person traveling with me and we talk about switching seats if the driver starts to feel tired. Then there is always the hot drink, loud music, open