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Friday, October 22, 2010
Driving Safely in Snow and Ice

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By Michael K.

Winter will soon be upon us, which means one thing: snow! That’s right, soon, the streets will be covered in white, icicles will hang from roofs, and the local pond will freeze over. But while all of this can amount to a beautiful sight, snow can bring with it certain dangers. Sidewalks can be slippery, icicles can fall to the street below, and ice can be thin. That’s why it’s so important to know how best to avoid the potential pitfalls associated with daily tasks – starting with driving.

Driving can be tough enough. The modern motorist has to focus on his own actions, as well as watch out for others. Adding dangerous driving conditions to the mix can be a recipe for disaster. But knowing how to avoid dangerous situations, as well as what to do it you find yourself in one can be the difference between a successful journey and tragedy. Take a look at the snow and ice driving safety tips below, and take them into consideration as you get behind the wheel this winter.

  • In especially dangerous situations, such as a blizzard, don’t drive. The decreased visibility inherent in these storms coupled with already dangerous driving conditions is one of the leading causes of accidents in snowy weather. Remember: other motorists are no better able to see you than you are they.

  • If you must drive, make sure first that you are very familiar with how your car operates, or “handles.” The best way to do this is to take it to an empty parking lot (beware of concrete stops) and practice controlling your car in snowy and icy conditions. Practice:
    • Emergency Braking: Depending on weather your car is equipped with Anti-lock brakes (ABS) or not, this can mean two very different things. If your car does have ABS, as most manufactured from the early 1990’s on do, “slam” on your brake pedal as hard as you can, and don’t release. ABS is programmed to do the “pumping for you,” leaving your to steer to avoid the collision. If your car does not have ABS however, you will have to “pump,” or depress your brake pedal rapidly, to maintain control.
    • Skidding: In the event that you do hit ice while driving, it’s important to know how to correct for a skid. Again, here it depends on what kind of car your drive. Ultimately, your front wheels should be free to rotate while in the skid. For front-wheel drive cars, this necessitates a depression of the clutch pedal (manual transmission) or a shift into neutral (automatic transmission). If you drive a rear-wheel drive car, this is not an issue. For both types however, it is important to take your foot off the accelerator, and grasp the steering wheel firmly with both hands. Avoid the temptation to depress the brake at all costs. Slowly turn the steering wheel in the direction you want to go, and as you feel your car regain grip of the road, gently depress the accelerator.

    • Acceleration: Learning how to accelerate properly in poor weather conditions may seem counter-intuitive, but one of the easiest ways to find yourself in a skid is to over- or under-accelerate. Practice depressing the accelerator at an increasingly quick rate, starting for a very gentle push. Learn where the “breaking point” is on your car, keeping in mind that this will be lower in poorer driving conditions.
  • Maintain your vehicle. The importance of normal safety and maintenance items is magnified in poor weather. Be sure to maintain your:

    • Tires: “Snow” tires, not “all-season” tires are best. In any case, your tires should have at least 6/32 inches of tread to properly grip the road.

    • Windshield Wipers: As stated before, low visibility is a killer. Many manufacturers produce a line of wipers meant especially for snow and ice. They may be more expensive, but if you don’t wear them out in one season, you can always re-use them the next year.

    • Headlights: If you drive an older car, it may be time to replace your headlights. Decreased intensity can impair your ability to see the road, and other drivers’ ability to see you. Nearly every car can be retro-fitted with modern high-intensity headlights.

    • Brakes: As stated before, the ability to brake in emergency situations is paramount. Take your car to a reputable mechanic and have your entire braking system inspected. It’s generally not expensive, and is absolutely worth it.
While there is much more that could be said about driving safely in snow and ice, this list is a good start. Take care of your car, educate yourself, and be safe!

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