On may way home tonight to post another Comments on Headlines thread, I had what was easily the second-worst incident of my driving career. As with the last one, it was the result of circumstances somewhat beyond my control and owing somewhat to inexperience.
Here in Chicago we've gotten the worst or second-worst snowstorm of the winter tonight, and while out driving I was on a plowed patch of road. Conditions were no different than on a road which was slightly wet, and I was doing about 40mph (in a 50mph zone). The road I was on was 2 lanes each way divided by a constant left-turn lane. The road I was about to cross the intersection of was three lanes each way.
A plow had recently done the intersecting road, so a stack of snow easily 18" tall was in the way. It may have been closer to 2', but either way, it was substantial. This is not all that rare, and I've driven through them before. I slowed down to about 35mph by applying the brake gradually. What I didn't know, however, was that the plow had coated the road beyond the snow bank with a thin layer of slippery, mushy snow. As I breached the snow bank with a gentle lull in speed, the car began fishtailing. Beyond that intersection the road hadn't been plowed anytime recently, so it had about half an inch of snow, plus or minus a few tire tracks. I corrected for the fishtail effect probably eight or nine gradually-smaller times before feeling I had adequately resumed forward control of the car, at which point I let the car drift into some of the existing tire tracks. They grabbed the wheels as they have a tendency to and gave the car a nasty slowish-jolt to one side. Unfortunately, it didn't stop there, and I found myself facing forward skidding into the right lane. I steared very marginally left to try and return to my lane, but by then I was on solid snow, no tire tracks and no traction. The car whipped around sideways and shot across the left-turn lane and both opposing lanes. I have a friend who slid into a curb recently while trying to stop, and with his brakes locked and wheels turned, he literaly ripped the wheel off. Noting that and thinking "oh shit oh shit, this is my dad's car", I decided I'd had enough of this mess, and pointed the wheels strait at the curb and took my foot off the break. We slid like a hot knife through butter up over the curb and about fifteen feet into an industry-park's lawn. I put the car in reverse and backed out with surprising ease, and then got out to inspect things.
Because of the rather unusual and ornery combination of road conditions which awaited me beyond that intersection, and because I had the time to think about what I was doing and prepair for the final "crash", I think I handled the situation relatively well. In the future, I think I will give plowed intersections with similar snowbanks considerably more respect.
The car was completely undamaged and the lawn I'd ended up on wasn't gouged on account of having so much snow under the wheels, so all in all I got quite lucky given that I could've spun into trees or signs or just about anything else. This is where I say: "Whew!!"