“Make Winter Driving Safer” in the early 1980s

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Still image from video below.

“Tom?” I called up to my 18-year-old son, who was in his room.

“What?” he replied.

“Come down to the living room, please.”

“Why?”

“Because I want to show you this vintage film I found on the Internet Archive.”

“Now?”

“If I wanted you to come down here later, I wouldn’t be calling you now. So yes, now.”

That’s how this little exercise began, with all the excitement that typical 18-year-olds usually muster up for doing anything with their parents.

Though my son had already been taught how to prepare for and drive in poor weather, I felt that this educational film, which was produced for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety by Countryman Klang Inc. back in the early 1980s could reaffirm a few of those lessons. It was a refresher for his older sister and his mother and me, but there’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s one of the more productive ways to spend 12-and-half minutes in front of a computer with the family.

We had some fun talking about the now-vintage cars, tools, and other items shown through the course of the film, as we brushed up on winter driving safety. Since the lessons, warnings, and tips it presents are self-explanatory, I’ll just touch on a few other interesting things to look for.

During the winter prep scene with the Chevette, I had to explain to my kids that, yes, I was actually old enough to have used the flattop oil cans that required the metal spout to be plunged into them.

Remember the red, white, and blue Delco Freedom II battery shown in the Chevette? The hydrometer could display a “Green Eye—Sufficiently Charged for Testing,” or a “Dark Eye—Must be Charged before Testing.”

In the scene where the Camaro is driving too fast down the snow-covered side street, the last parked vehicle it passes before skidding into the intersection appears to be a compact car with a comparatively huge camper unit mounted on top of it that will likely create some interesting handling traits.

Do you remember the Plymouth Arrow GT? How about its jingle, “Me and my Arrow, taking the high road.” Notice in the film how far and for how long the Arrow GT skids on the ice with all four wheels locked up. (Hemmings’ own Kurt Ernst’s first car was a 1976 Arrow 160, and you can learn more about it here.)

It was interesting to see vehicles of the era like the Mercury Capri, Second-Gen Camaros, Chevy fullsize wagon, Buick Regal, Dodge Colt, the aforementioned Arrow GT, and Chevette, and the others trying to get through the snow.

Some of this information is a little dated of course, and the potential merits versus the possible pitfalls of shifting into neutral during a skid or doing the same prior to braking on snow or ice have been debated. Also keep in mind that, though many of the basics discussed still apply, this film was produced in the days before antilock brakes, traction control, and the other safety features that have become standard on modern cars. Today’s winter tires are designed to work in a broader range of conditions, too — including packed snow and ice.

All that said, consider this film for its entertainment value with some practical tips included, but also be sure to augment it with more up-to-date instruction regarding preparing for and driving in winter weather. For example, AAA currently has a comprehensive booklet that covers vehicle and driver prep, and winter driving techniques that can be downloaded here. Disclaimer: Page three of the booklet says that if only two snow tires are used, mount them on the rear wheels, forgetting that the vast majority of today’s cars are front-wheel drive. Also, modern winter tires should only be mounted in sets of four, never just two.

AAA also has a YouTube channel with several videos on winterizing your vehicle and a brief one with driving information. You can view the organization’s “Winter Driving Tips” playlist here.

As luck would have it, 6 inches of snow and a few ice storms arrived earlier than expected this year, so our screening of this AAA classic and reviewing the current AAA info proved timely.

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