15 Strategic Reserves of Unusual Products

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iStock

We’ve all collected something at one time or another, although it’s usually more for novelty’s sake than to ameliorate large-scale humanitarian disasters or to control the market price of, say, souvenir spoons. Other than doomsday preppers, that’s usually the purview of national governments. But while many countries keep stockpiles of the obvious things, like petroleum or gold, you might be surprised to hear what others have been collecting in their federal reserves—and why.

1. THE GLOBAL STRATEGIC MAPLE SYRUP RESERVE

Non-Canadians might think of maple syrup production as a cottage industry, but it’s responsible for thousands of jobs in the Great White North—and whole lot of the nation’s revenue. The Canadian province of Quebec is responsible for 71 percent of the world’s maple syrup, and the stuff’s not cheap—a 600-pound barrel of grade-A syrup trades at $1650 USD, more than 10 times the price of crude oil. Add to this the fact that maple trees are notoriously fickle about the weather—they require both cold nights and mildly warm days to cause sap to flow, which means that a sudden change in the weather can cause disaster—and it’s a situation that could potentially cost Canada beaucoup bucks. So, since 2000, the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers has been building entire warehouses of extra maple syrup near Quebec City, to brace the country for a sudden syrup dearth. The Federation also seeks to push the alleged health benefits of maple syrup to its foreign consumers, arguing on the platform that it’s better for you than white sugar.

The stockpile that was created to protect the province’s revenue was robbed in 2012, following a great syrup surplus the previous year. Thieves who weren't part of the Federation but had access to the warehouse siphoned syrup from barrels, making off with 60 percent of the stockpile—6 million pounds—which worked out to over $18 million CDN in syrup. The thieves were later arrested, but only a quarter of the syrup was recovered.

2. THE SVALBARD GLOBAL SEED TRUST

A frozen, far-flung possession of Norway with a mere 2600 residents, the remote Arctic archipelago of Svalbard doesn’t have a whole lot going on—but its low population density (just 0.10 of a person per square mile) and its location, inside the Arctic Circle just north of the Scandinavian peninsula, make it the perfect place to hide your stash.

Starting in 1984, the Nordic Gene Bank has been squirreling away frozen seeds inside an old coal mine, and in 2006, Norway began construction of a new facility 400 feet inside a sandstone mountain to protect against the loss of certain plant life in the event of a global catastrophe. The island's permafrost will keep the seeds frozen in the event of an electrical failure, its high elevation is expected to keep the seeds safe and dry if the polar ice caps should melt, and there's a lack of tectonic activity. After many years of duplicating seeds from the Southern African Development Community, which also keeps a vast seed collection, the NGB merged its seeds with the SADCs, and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened in 2008. The vault contains approximately 865,000 different agricultural seed samples, with the capacity to hold 4.5 million.

3. THE PROTECTING ICE MEMORY PROJECT

Did you know that glaciers contain data? Scientists do, which is why, deep within a snow cave in Antarctica, a group of them are slowly building a library of ice in an effort to head off global warming before the glaciers melt completely. The Protecting Ice Memory project was launched in August 2016 by a team of glaciologists and engineers from France, Italy, Russia, and the U.S. The idea is to get as many samples from as many mountain glaciers as possible worldwide, catalogue the info found within, and ship the samples to their icy database at the bottom of the world.

The information contained within the 426-foot-long ice cores includes historical data points on gaseous concentration, pollution, and long-term temperature changes, among other things. This project has only just begun, and it sounds like it could be slow-going—the three ice cores extracted from Col du Dôme in France aren’t even in Antarctica yet, and the first one won’t be analyzed until 2019, with the other two slated for sometime in 2020.

4. THE NATIONAL RAISIN RESERVE

Most stockpiles are created to protect against a shortage of the thing that’s being stockpiled, but the National Raisin Reserve came about as a solution to the opposite problem: America just had too many raisins. During World War II, both the government and civilians bought raisins in large quantities to send to soldiers overseas; by a few years after the war's end, in 1949, the raisin market was flooded. In response, the raisin growers joined together and under the auspices of a New Deal-era Act created Marketing Order 989, supervised by the USDA, which allowed them to take a varying percentage of American raisin farmers’ produce—sometimes almost half and often without paying for them—in an effort to create a raisin shortage and artificially drive up the market price. The confiscated crops were then put into storage in California, whereupon some of them would eventually be used in school lunches, fed to livestock, or sold to other countries.

This went on until 2002, when farmer Marvin Horne decided that he actually was not going to hand over his raisins and, instead, preferred to sell all of them. The government responded by sending the raisin police (actually a local private detective firm) to surveil his farm and then sending him a bill for about $680,000. Horne sued, and the case bounced around several courts for many years, ultimately landing at the U.S. Supreme Court—twice: the first time due to a question on jurisdiction (where one justice referred to the law that created the Marketing Order as “the world’s most outdated law”) and the second time to determine if the raisin seizures violated the Fifth Amendment prohibition against taking personal property without just compensation. Ultimately, in 2015, the court ruled in favor of Horne: For seizures to continue, compensation would have to be paid. Many pundits saw this as the end of the raisin stockpile, but it may soon return—the USDA just says that “Due to a recent United States Supreme Court decision, [the Volume Control] provisions are currently suspended, being reviewed, and will be amended.”

5. THE CHINESE PORK STOCKPILE

Meanwhile, in China, they’re finding out what happens when you confiscate too much of a staple: in this case, a 200,000-metric ton stash of pork. The Chinese pork reserve is nothing new; the stockpile of frozen meat has existed for almost a decade in an effort to control the wildly fluctuating price of pork. The meat has been at the center of the country’s cuisine and culture for thousands of years. (Rou, the Mandarin word for “meat,” is the same as the word for “pork.”) The idea was cooked up in 2007, when porcine blue ear disease wiped out a large number of Chinese pigs and the price of pork soared by 87 percent, leading to civil unrest. In May 2016, the stockpile came in handy when 6.1 million pounds of frozen pork were released in response to a price surge of more than 50 percent—which was a result of the government keeping the price so low that Chinese farmers were giving up on raising pigs for such low profits, creating a dire pork shortage. Although economists doubt how effective the pork reserve is, the price of pork did fall in the ensuing months. Sounds like it’s an effective tactic, as long as you don’t go hog wild with it.

6. THE COTTON RESERVE IN INDIA

Dating back several millennia, textiles manufacturing is one of the oldest industries in India’s economy, and the country is hugely dependent on it too—garments and fabrics make up 11 percent of India’s total exports, and 60 percent of those exports are cotton-based. Which is why the state-run Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) has amassed about 2.5 million bales of cotton, which it sits on in case it needs to back up the mills in the event of a shortage.

India isn’t the only country in the world to hoard cotton—China used to do this as well, and at one point, it owned up to 40 percent of the entire world’s supply. But now that the Chinese government stopped buying cotton in 2013, due to the fiber’s high storage costs, India may one day take the all-time cotton high score.

7. FEDERAL HELIUM RESERVE

In 1925, the U.S. government began reserving helium for use in dirigibles, in hopes of catching up to the massive fleet of airships that Germany had used during World War I. But by the end of World War II, airplanes had replaced airships as the military’s de rigueur aircraft, so you’d think the helium stockpile would have been sold off.

Not so. Turns out, this helium is valuable for a bunch of perhaps-unexpected reasons. Not only is it useful since it’s a “superfluid” at temperatures very near to absolute zero, it’s ideal as a protective atmosphere for shielded arc welding. The scientific research industry also has a demand for the gas—the helium atom is one of the simplest that can be used to study atomic physics in quantum mechanics. Today, it’s utilized in the production of fiber optic cables and computer chips. NASA uses helium in its Delta IV rockets and to maintain pressure in liquid oxygen fuel tanks, and the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, needs about 130 tons of helium to operate.

By the mid-1990s, the U.S. government decided to get rid of the reserve, passing the Helium Privatization Act of 1996 and gradually selling the helium stockpile off to private buyers. But as helium was being used more and more, the prices were being kept artificially low, which led to massive waste—so the House of Representatives stepped in with the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013 and voted to extend the life of the Federal Helium Reserve. These days, the U.S. is reducing its helium stores to 3 billion, hidden about 3000 feet underground in Amarillo, Texas—conveniently located near two natural gas fields in the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas that contain unusually high percentages of helium and are the country’s greatest helium resources. New mining endeavors are expected to create a helium surplus by 2018, so it sounds like we’re in good shape (for now).

8. THE FROZEN ARK

It’s not news that animal species are disappearing at an increasing rate, with a quarter of all known mammals and 10 percent of all birds facing possible extinction within the next couple of decades. In 2004, three British organizations decided to join forces and combat the issue. The Natural History Museum, the Zoological Society of London, and Nottingham University established a “frozen zoo” they called The Frozen Ark Project.

To do this, DNA and living tissue samples are taken from all endangered species that can be accessed and then preserved, so that future generations can study the genetic material far into the future (they generally discount a Jurassic Park scenario, but say it might be possible in a few instances). So far, the Frozen Ark has over 700 samples stored at the University of Nottingham in England—and participating consortium members in the UK, the U.S., Germany, Australia, NZ, India, South Africa, Norway, and Ireland. DNA donations come from museums, university laboratories, and sometimes the animals themselves, via zoos.

9. CHINA’S GIGANTIC URANIUM STOCK

U.S. Department of Energy, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

China's population continues to grow, and the country's power needs continue to rise—so the government is always on the hunt for sources of power. One of the major sources, these days, is nuclear, and in order to ensure nuclear power for a long time, the Chinese government has been stockpiling lots of uranium. The Chinese are already estimated to have nine years worth of uranium, although they don’t disclose any details.

After the Fukushima disaster in Japan and other longstanding concerns about nuclear power, the price of uranium plummeted to less than a quarter of what it was in 2007. The cheap pricetag has been great for China, which has been able to buy large portions of the world market for virtually nothing; when the price of uranium increases again in the future (either due to increased demand or decreased supply), China’s nuclear power plants will continue to operate.

10. THE EU's BUTTER SURPLUS

Like the raisin and helium stockpiles, World War II was the impetus for Europe’s infamous “butter mountain.” Food shortages and economic collapse were fresh in the minds of Europeans, and so the European Economic Community—a precursor to the European Union—began subsidizing farmers. In 1962, the Common Agricultural Policy was created to pay guaranteed, artificially high prices to dairy farmers for surplus products, which were sold to the European public for higher prices, causing a drop in sales. Attempts to compete by non-EU dairies were squelched at the borders by heavy taxes. Then they stockpiled the rest for a rainy day (or world war). In 1986 alone, the EU bought 1.23 million tons of leftover butter.

In the 1970s, word made it to the street of the “butter mountain” that the EU had been tucking away, which was costing taxpayers an enormous amount of money—almost 90 percent of the EEC’s budget in 1970—and outrage ensued. It still took until the ‘90s for something to be done about it, however. Instead of paying farmers for their unwanted butter, the EEC switched to paying them to not produce it. The so-called butter mountain was finally dissolved (or melted?) in 2007.

(It wasn’t an actual mountain of butter, of course, nor was it even kept in the same place—the surplus butter was distributed and placed in cold storage in various silos across the continent. Despite this, though, once the name “butter mountain” been coined by the press, the name stuck.)

In 2009, just two years after the butter was liquidated, the global recession and relative strength of the euro had made it more difficult for dairy farmers to sell their goods. The EU came to the rescue, and the butter mountain was back. The European Commission pledged to buy up to 300,000 tons of butter, at a guaranteed price of €2299 a ton, so its dairy farmers wouldn’t go out of business. Although it was considered more of a “butter molehill” this time around, the butter and other agricultural goods the EU bought cost taxpayers a whopping €280,000,000, and the pressure was on to get rid of it ASAP. As of 2011, a portion of the butter had been donated to the worldwide Food Aid for the Needy program.

11. THE STRATEGIC NATIONAL STOCKPILE

This one’s kind of a no-brainer. Managed by the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Government stocks millions of doses of vaccines, antidotes, antitoxins, antibiotics, and sundry other medications in warehouses scattered across the nation to prep for natural disasters, disease outbreaks, and biological terrorist attacks. The warehouses are distributed such that supplies should be made available to the site of the emergency within 12 hours, whether it strikes in Alaska or Arkansas (and, if needed, the full force of resources can arrive in 24 to 36 hours). The details on locations of the warehouses and their exact contents aren’t publicly available.

Some examples of the known goodies the SNS stocks are smallpox vaccines, Cipro to combat anthrax, and diabetes and blood pressure meds for folks who might be stranded from their homes long-term. These all came in handy during the September 11th attacks in 2001 and in the catastrophic effects wreaked upon southern Louisiana after it was hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In 2009, the SNS responded to the H1N1 swine flu pandemic by releasing a quarter of its influenza-specific supplies—including antiviral drugs, gloves, and face masks—to the American public.

Not sure what kind of disaster you’re dealing with quite yet? The SNS has you covered there, too. If you’ve got a lot of people suffering from an unspecified malady, they’ll send out “push packages”—a grab bag of different medications and supplies—for health care workers to disperse, free of charge.

12. RUSSIA’S TOP-SECRET UNDERGROUND FOOD RESERVE

In a series of former mine tunnels deep below the surface of Central Russia sits a top-secret cache of cereals, sugar, canned meat, and other food staples, all managed by an agency called Rosreserve. The agency—which manages all of Russia's federally-mandated reserves—classifies the food depot a state secret, and so there’s not a lot of information on it, including its location. Nor does anyone outside of Rosreserve seem to know how much food they’ve got packed away down there. But we know that the complex is vast, it’s 400 feet underground, it’s airtight and nuke-proof, and it’s kept at 65 percent humidity and 7 to 8 degrees Celsius—without refrigeration, relying only on the frozen ground to keep things cool. The facility also includes a laboratory, so that the food can be tested against the government’s nutritional standards, and the inventory is rotated on the regular, to ensure that none of it goes bad. About-to-expire food is delivered to consumers, primarily food security agencies.

13. SCOTLAND YARD’S RUBBER BULLET COLLECTION

Just months after riots erupted throughout England in August 2011—which saw looting, arson, and the deaths of five people in response to the killing of Mark Duggan by a police officer—London’s Metropolitan Police thought it might want to be a little more prepared in case it happened again. The Met responded by purchasing 10,000 baton rounds, also known as plastic bullets, to add to its comparably small existing collection of only 700. The new shipment put the Met’s rubber bullet inventory at an all-time high, with a previous record of 6424. It was reported that the rounds are not the police’s preferred method of dealing with conflict, but only that they want to have them available.

The idea behind baton rounds, of course, is to cause pain but not grievous injury or death. But that depends on how far away from a target you fire them from. In 1982, a soldier at a protest rally shot an 11-year-old Northern Irish boy in the head with a baton round from several feet away, killing him. Rubber bullets were used widely by the police in Northern Ireland, in fact, during the ethno-nationalist conflict known as The Troubles, wherein misuse regularly led to serious human injury.

With its new plethora of rubber bullets, the Met also elected to train more of its officers to deploy them correctly, but it wasn’t because of the history of misuse in Northern Ireland. The reason cited was because the police had received criticism during the UK riots for not having enough specialists to make the tactic easily available.

14. THE NORTHEAST HOME HEATING OIL RESERVE

If there’s an area of the U.S. that most needs a stockpile of heating oil, it’s the Northeast. Between its brutal winters and the general dependence of its households on oil as a heating method, a disruption in access to supplies could be a serious problem. That’s why, in 2000, President Bill Clinton directed the creation of the reserve as a component of the existing Strategic Petroleum Reserve, via the Department of Energy.

NEHHOR, as it’s called, isn’t a giant reservoir of oil, though, like one might imagine—instead, a million barrels of ultra-low-sulfur distillate (a.k.a. diesel) are housed in three separate terminals in Connecticut, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Oil is sometimes auctioned off from this stockpile—the U.S. Department of Energy has developed an online bidding system for the purpose of running occasional one-day emergency sales, open to any interested party.

Although NEHHOR was originally intended to be temporary, it’s still around today, and it’s a good thing. It took 12 years, but the reserve was finally opened up in November 2012, when Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc throughout much of the Northeast and 2 million gallons of heating oil were delivered to local and federal relief efforts.

15. FOOD SECURITY COMMODITY RESERVE

Among this list of strategic reserves, this is perhaps the most generous one. Called the Food Security Commodity Reserve since 1996, it was originally Title III of the Agriculture Act of 1980 that established a reserve of up to 4 million metric tons of wheat, which would be earmarked for combating famine in developing nations. Although the first incarnation of this reserve was strictly wheat-based, the 1996 farm bill opened the doors to other foodstuffs to be included in the reserve, such as rice, corn, and sorghum.

Subsequently, the Africa: Seeds of Hope Act of 1998 established the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust, which added a stockpile of hard cash in order to expand the reach of the Food Security Commodity Reserve, and in 2008, it became an exclusively cash reserve. The cash in the BEHT helps the Office of Food for Peace to supply areas of hunger with provisions without depleting the stores of grain. Recent withdrawals from this cash stash include a donation of $50 million toward provisions for South Sudan during its dire food crisis of 2014.

All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise noted.

10 Common Road Hazards and How to React to Them

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iStock.com/LeManna

James Solomon has been a defensive driving expert with the National Safety Council for 34 years. He has taught driving courses for 47 years. And one of the best pieces of advice he can give has absolutely nothing to do with an automobile.

“If it sounds like there might be inclement weather the next day,” Solomon tells Mental Floss, “set your alarm an hour early. You’ll have enough time to get up, clean your car off, and drive slowly.”

That's especially sound advice for a good part of the country, as the winter season means more driving perils, including poor visibility, snowbanks, and ice. Other road hazards like fog, deer, and road-hogging commercial trucks never seem to take a break. For some practical advice on what to do in these situations, we asked Solomon to break down 10 common driving obstacles and the best ways to cope with them. Here’s what he had to say.

1. DRIVING ON ICY ROADS

A sign warns of a slippery road ahead
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Nothing can jolt a driver like the sudden loss of control of their automobile after hitting a slick patch of pavement. While some ice is noticeable, “black ice”—which occurs when ice has thawed and re-frozen—can be hard to spot.

What to Do: If your car goes into a skid or loses traction, the best thing to do is remove your foot off the accelerator. “You don’t want power of any kind going to the wheels,” Solomon says. If you have standard braking, keep your foot entirely off the brake. If you have an automatic braking system (ABS), which is pretty much standard in most newer cars, you want to push the pedal down and wait for the car to regain traction. Don’t pump the pedal: The ABS can pulsate the brakes faster than your foot can.

You also want to turn the wheel in the direction you want the front of the car to go. “Once the vehicle begins to straighten out, counter-steer in the opposite direction,” Solomon says. “Steering and counter-steering should be done three to five times while braking.” Keep doing it until you feel the wheels grip the pavement.

2. GETTING STUCK IN A SNOW BANK

A car tire is stuck in snow
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After a heavy snowfall, you might return to your car to find the wheels surrounded by snow. As they spin, they can’t find any grip on the slick powder, and you’re going nowhere fast.

What to Do: A little foresight is best here. Solomon advises you keep a shovel, brush, and a pair of traction mats in your trunk. (Kitty litter may also work for traction, but the mats are reusable.) If you’re stuck, make sure you have enough room to move the car forward and backward and that there isn’t any snow blocking the exhaust pipe. Clear the snow away from the wheels and try moving forward or in reverse. If that doesn’t work, put the mats under the front wheels (for front-wheel drive) or under the back wheels (for a rear-wheel drive). Once the wheels are on the mat, try turning to get away from the snow. Solomon cautions to watch out for passing traffic, as other drivers might have trouble spotting you.

3. DRIVING IN HEAVY RAIN

Heavy rain falls on a car windshield
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People don’t always think of a torrential downpour the same way they think of a snowstorm, but heavy rain can impede visibility and cause hydroplaning, where the wheels come off the pavement and onto the surface of the water, causing drivers to lose control.

What to Do: For any type of driving in the rain, make sure your tire tread depth is no less than 5/32 of an inch, and preferably much more: new tires typically start around 10/32 of an inch. A worn tire at 2/32 of an inch is asking for a crash, as the stopping distance of a car is increased and traction is reduced. You can estimate depth by sticking a penny upside-down in the tread: If the top of Lincoln's head is visible, it's time for new tires.

Solomon also recommends changing your wipers regularly: a more durable winter blade, a March rain blade, and another August rain blade. And make sure they’re not being held back by your cleaning habits. “If you’re going through car washes and they’re using wax, the wipers are going to be sliding over that,” he says. A wax stripper found at automotive stores can erase that residue, clearing your windshield and allowing your wipes to make better contact with the glass. “The first time you spray it on, you’ll get a crusty, filmy look, which is all the wax you’re dissolving.”

If your windshield is clean but the rain is still obscuring your vision, then you’re probably driving too fast for the wipers to clean the glass efficiently. If it’s that bad, pull over to the side of the road and wait for the downpour to ease up. But never, ever park under an overpass. “You’re a sitting duck there,” Solomon says. “You’re stopped with a guardrail or pillar next to you and your transmission locked. If you’re struck by another vehicle, there’s no place for your car to go. That’s a huge amount of weight hitting you.”

4. BLINDED BY GLARE

A driver observes sun coming through the car windshield
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Winter or summer, the sun sometimes has a way of shining through your windshield just the right angle to effectively blind you. Keeping a pair of sunglasses handy is the best solution, but there are a few other ways to cope.

What to Do: “All cars come equipped with a sun visor,” Solomon says. “The problem is when people pull it down and the edge is pointed at your nose. In a collision, your face will slam right into it.”

Instead, pull the visor down and then push it all the way toward the windshield, then slowly bring it forward until it blocks the sun. (The bottom should still be pointed away from you and toward the windshield. Solomon also keeps a baseball cap in his car so he can use the bill to block the sun without obstructing his view. If glare is coming from the left-side window, remember that most visors are detachable on one end and should be able to pivot and block peripheral light.

5. A TIRE BLOWOUT

A car tire rests on the ground after a blowout
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While some tires may pick up a stray nail or sharp object and deflate slowly, others lose pressure suddenly. If you’re down to three good tires, you’re no longer in a position to drive safely on the road.

What to Do: “The big mistake people make with a sudden loss of pressure is to hit the brake and stop to save the tire,” Solomon says. “But if the air went out that quick, the tire is gone.”

Instead of trying to salvage the tire, focus on getting off the road. If you’ve lost pressure, you want to continue traveling in a straight direction until you can stop. If the tire’s sidewall blows out, the car will probably move in the opposite direction of the break. A blown front right tire will cause the vehicle to drift left, for example. “Drive with two hands on the wheel, put your emergency flashers on, check your mirrors, and get over to the right shoulder of the road if at all possible,” Solomon says. “If you’re in a skid, you may have to keep your foot on the accelerator a little bit to force the wheel to move forward.”

Check your tire pressure at least once a week, especially in winter, when the pressure can drop. But if it suddenly turns warmer, make sure to let the air escape. An overinflated tire can cause the side tread to leave the surface, leaving only the center tread in contact with the road. Your owner's manual or a label inside of the driver's side door will tell you the correct tire pressure for the vehicle.

6. BRAKE FAILURE

A foot presses on a brake pedal
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The ability to stop a vehicle is probably the most important function of all, and when it fails, it’s easy for panic to set in. If you’re pushing the brake pedal and nothing is happening, you need to take immediate action.

What to Do: First, don’t assume your brake lights are still working. “Hit your emergency flashers and pump the brake quickly three or four times,” Solomon says. If that doesn’t work, you need to take a lightning-fast look at the floor mat. It’s not uncommon for the mat to get bunched up behind the brake pedal, making it hard to move. Dislodging it while the vehicle is in motion is dangerous, so prevention is key: Make sure your mat is the right fit for your vehicle, is snapped in place if that option is available, and that you haven't stacked mats on top of each other.

If that looks clear, then go into neutral. “You want to deprive the car of forward motion,” Solomon says. Once you’re in neutral, take your emergency brake—typically a lever with a button on the side console—and begin pumping it up and down. (Some cars have an electronic brake that only requires a button push. Read your owner’s manual.) The brake should lock up the rear wheels and allow the car to come to a stop.

7. SOMEONE IS TAILGATING YOU

A car is seen in a rearview mirror
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Having a vehicle riding too close to your rear bumper can be a nerve-wracking experience. If you need to brake suddenly, the car is likely to collide with yours. If you honk, flash your lights, or make an insulting hand gesture, you run the risk of antagonizing someone who is already behaving irrationally.

What to Do: “What I want to do is encourage them to pass me,” Solomon says. “If I can, I’ll signal, move to the right-hand lane, and that will generally take care of it.” If you can’t, wait for an intersection so you can make a right turn or drive into a service station. Just don’t engage them: “There’s nothing you’re going to do to stop them from tailgating you. Tricks like tapping your brakes—well, no, you’re dealing with an aggressive person and you’re only going to make them more angry.”

8. GETTING STUCK BEHIND A COMMERCIAL TRUCK

Commercial trucks take up both lanes of a road
iStock.com/esemelwe

Feeling the rush of wind that accompanies a passing 18-wheeler can give you a healthy respect for these road behemoths. If you’re behind one, they can make it difficult to see what’s ahead. If you’re behind two, or in the middle of them, you might start to feel trapped.

What to Do: It’s important to determine whether the truck driver is aware of your existence before you attempt to pass. “If I can’t see the driver’s rear-view mirror, he can’t see me,” Solomon says. “If I can see their reflection, then they can probably see me.”

A good rule of thumb is to add an extra second of following distance to the recommended three seconds for most drivers. (Following distance is the amount of time it would take for your car to pass a landmark, like a roadside sign, after the driver in front of you has passed it.) In bad weather, Solomon says to increase it to seven or even 12 seconds to avoid debris and snow hitting your windshield.

If you’re stuck between trucks on a three-lane highway, decrease your speed by about five miles and let both trucks overtake you. Eventually, one will go faster than the other, and you’ll be able to choose your lane. The same holds true for buses.

9. DRIVING IN FOG

A road is covered in fog
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It makes for fine gothic horror movies and ‘80s music videos, but fog is otherwise a hazard. Driving through it can reduce visibility in a manner similar to a bad snowfall.

What to Do: Your instinct might be to put on your high beams to better illuminate the road ahead. Don’t. “You’ll wind up seeing less,” Solomon says. “The beam shines further into the fog and reflects off the water particulates, shining the light right back into your eyes.” Instead, keep your lights dim and slow down.

10. DEER CROSSINGS

A deer crossing sign is posted next to a road
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Back roads can often be nestled directly in the path of deer, animals that have no understanding of passing traffic and can appear out of nowhere. Even if you manage to avoid hitting one, a yearling could be nearby, ready to do serious damage in a collision. In this case, responsibility falls strictly on you to avoid an accident. “Deer don’t look both ways before crossing,” Solomon says.

What to Do: If you’re in deer country and it’s dark, you can try flashing your headlights to get a deer’s attention. They might take it as a sign to hang back. If you see a deer up ahead, take your foot off the gas to slow your speed, then flash your lights. This may make it run off the road. If not, it’s time to brake: Swerving off the road at highway speeds is risky and can cause serious injury to the driver and passengers. Always read the road ahead. You don’t want an animal that large smashing through your windshield. And as bad as it may sound, it will be even worse if they survive the impact. “If it’s not dead, it will be kicking, with sharp hooves and antlers,” Solomon says.

Get to the side of the road immediately and exit the car. If traffic is high or the road is narrow, go through the passenger’s side door. Above all, take the deer crossing signs seriously and go slow. “When you see those signs, it wasn’t because the state or county had some extra money and thought they’d go put them up,” Solomon says. “It means there have been problems with deer crossing the road.”

5 Holiday Foods That Are Dangerous to Pets

iStock/svetikd
iStock/svetikd

One of the best parts of the holiday season is the menu of indulgent food and drinks that comes along with it. But while you enjoy that cup of spiked hot cocoa, you’ve got to be careful your dog or cat doesn’t nab a lick. Here are five holiday treats that are dangerous for your pets, according to Vetstreet.

1. COFFEE

Any coffee lover will agree that there’s nothing quite like an after-dinner cup of joe on a cold night. But pups, kitties, and other pets will have to sit this tradition out. Caffeine can prompt seizures and abnormal heart rhythms in pets, and can sometimes be fatal. Other caffeinated drinks, such as soda or tea, should also be kept away from your four-legged family members.

2. BREAD DOUGH

We know the threat that bread dough poses to the appearance of our thighs, but it’s much more dangerous to our furry little friends. Holiday bakers have to be careful of unbaked bread dough as it can expand in animal stomachs if ingested. In some dogs, the stomach can twist and cut off the blood supply, in which case the pup would need emergency surgery.

3. CHOCOLATE

Cat and dog in Santa hats chowing down on plates of food
iStock/TatyanaGl

A little chocolate never hurt anybody, right? Wrong. The sweet treat can cause seizures and even be fatal to our pets. Darker chocolate, such as the baker’s chocolate we love to put in our holiday cookies, is more toxic to our pets than milk or white chocolate. The toxic ingredients include caffeine and theobromine, a chemical found in the cacao plant.

4. MACADAMIA NUTS

Macadamia nuts, which are a common ingredient in holiday cookies and often put out to munch on as an appetizer, can be toxic to dogs. While poisoning might not always be easy to detect in a pet, clinical warning signs include depression, weakness, vomiting, tremors, joint stiffness, and lack of coordination.

5. ALCOHOL

Think back to when you first started drinking and how much less alcohol it took to get you tipsy, because you likely weighed less than you do now. Well, your pet probably weighs a lot less than you did, even back then, meaning it takes much less alcohol to make them dangerously sick. Keep those wine glasses far out of reach of your pets in order to avoid any issues. Well, maybe not any issue: We can’t promise that this will stop you from getting embarrassingly drunk at a holiday party this year.

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