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Special Issues & Guides » Snow Riders' Guide

Drive like a Local

Yes, Oregonians drive slow. Here's how to fit in.

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Nearly every day, someone writes or walks into the Source office to tell us how they're fed up with non-locals not learning the ropes. One huge source of complaint: Driving.

Like it or not, Oregonians have their own special way of handling themselves behind the wheel...and we tend to think it's a method that's safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and everyone, really. For this year's Snow Riders' Guide, we bring you some tips for driving this winter—Central Oregon style. Since we're by no means experts, we consulted someone who is: Mark Larson, owner of Deschutes Driver Education.

Go Slow in Roundabouts

In winter driving conditions, the area's roundabouts become areas of concern. Larson reminds people to use turn signals going out of them—but also to slow down.

"Roundabouts can be very slick, moreso than other areas because cars pull up to them, they stop, there's just enough heat off of them to melt the snow and the ice underneath them," Larson says. "That creates a nice little layer of water—and then this guy comes up and he's got water on top of ice—which is just what they do at a skate rink... and so they just slide right through." To stay safe, avoid accelerating through roundabouts, he says.

"They've got a slight slope to them, and people have a tendency to accelerate out of them which has the tendency to (cause) spin if you're not careful," Larson says.

Stop for Pedestrians at All Intersections

"Most people are looking 5-6 seconds ahead, playing follow the leader. We try to get our students eyes out there 30 seconds—getting eyes moving left and right so you're really aware of them," says Larson. "And then knowing that in fact you have to stop for them. If there's a pedestrian at an intersection, even if it does not have a painted crosswalk, there is still a crosswalk there and unless there's a traffic signal that says otherwise that pedestrian has the right of way.

Another issue with pedestrians in winter conditions: Giving them ample space, so that drivers don't slide into them.

"Pedestrians have to be all the way across or at least across the lane you're turning into and half of the next lane—that's the minimum," Larson says.

Driving to the Mountain

For the snow riders among us, Larson reminds people to avoid driving in the snow like you would on a hot August day. He says he often sees the phenomenon of people moving here from other communities, buying big vehicles and then thinking they can drive more aggressively.

"Just because you have four wheel drive, just because you have studded tires, you're much safer as far as your traction, but you're not going to be able to stop any faster – you still need to slow down, you still need to give yourself extra following distance by a couple of seconds," he says. Larson says he teaches his students to maintain a minimum of 4 seconds of stopping distance—or 5 or 6 seconds in snow.

Planning for studded tires? Maybe think about putting them on only when you'll actually be driving in snow...like after Mt. Bachelor opens on Nov. 25, instead of Nov. 1—the first day they're allowed by Oregon law. That's 25 fewer days of wear on our roads...

Slow Oregon Drivers

Yeah, yeah, we know—Oregon drivers tend to go slow. But if you're living here, it's the way of life.

"For these people who feel the need to go 10 over, 15 over, for the most part in in-town conditions they don't get to where they're going any faster," Larson points out. "Give yourself those few extra minutes, don't be in a monster hurry and all will be good."

Still, if you're headed to the mountain and you see a line of cars queuing up behind you, pull over and let them pass. It's the cool thing to do.

About The Author

Nicole Vulcan

Nicole Vulcan has been editor of the Source since 2016. (Blame her for everything since then.) Favorite car: A Trek commuter bike. Favorite cat: An adopted dog who looks like a Jedi master. Favorite things, besides responding to your comments: Downton Abbey re-runs, Aretha Franklin albums, and pink wine.

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