Winter Driving Tips
Often, the choice is made to stay put and not venture out into foul weather. That choice may be the wisest option. If you can, stay home. When it is necessary to be on the road during bad weather, adjust your driving style and use specialized techniques that will help you reduce the risk to yourself and others.
Here are a few tips:
The objective is to get moving. Since traction is limited, the driver needs to apply power gradually and gently. With an automatic transmission select the winter mode or start in second gear. Many transmissions allow you to bypass first gear which gives you too much torque and power. Standard stick shift transmissions obviously allow you to select any gear; you simply need to slip the clutch until you get moving. Remember, ease into the throttle; smoothness is the key.
Slowing and Stopping:
Drivers were taught to pump the brakes for decades. This technique became popular because braking systems did not allow for much modulation or feel for the amount of braking force being applied. Modern braking systems provide precise feedback to the driver allowing them to modulate and adjust while braking. The technique is called threshold braking and basically it means the driver is braking at the maximum level for the traction and grip available at the time of the maneuver. Threshold braking will be different each time because it is responsive to the environment. The threshold for braking on a wet surface will be different than the threshold in the snow, on ice or a different type of road surface or in a different vehicle. Practicing this technique will build the proficiency needed when conditions are bad.
ABS (antilock braking systems) have replaced the need for threshold braking. ABS systems work to mechanically and electronically limit the amount of braking force preventing a locked brake skid.
Threshold braking and ABS have eliminated the need to pump the brakes, but if your brakes do lock and you start to slide, release pressure on your brake pedal until you regain control and then reapply gently.
In very slick conditions, it may be necessary to place an automatic transmission in neutral just before you come to a stop. Do not confuse this with downshifting as a method of slowing down which can be dangerous in very slick conditions and could cause a skid or spin to occur.
Keep both hands on the steering wheel, even if you do not normally drive this way. The steering wheel provides a wealth of information about what is happening with your tires and will likely give the first indications of a developing skid. Using both hands increases the amount of information passed to your brain. Your brain can process this information, decide on the appropriate action and access the skills needed to respond to slick conditions.
If your car goes into a skid the primary response is to stop doing or undo whatever action caused the skid in the first place. If you apply the brakes and start to skid you probably need to release some brake pressure to regain control. The same goes for accelerating and steering.
Beyond that, the way to regain directional control can best be described as “looking where you want to go and steering in that direction”. You MUST look where you want the car to go. Your body will follow the lead of your eyes to what you are looking at.
Once you identify where you want the car to go, take action and drive there. The steering wheel is the only way to change the direction of travel. Use it. Steer in the direction you want to go, just like you normally would. It is just that simple. Stay off the brakes because your tires need to be allowed to roll, regain their grip and direct the car. Stay off the accelerator because the last thing you need is more speed or force. Once you have recovered directional control you can then adjust speed by braking or accelerating as is appropriate.
If you do get stuck, remember this: be gentle. Force is not the answer, apply the accelerator gently and if you stop making progress let the car roll back in the opposite direction and try again, essentially getting a run at it. Moving back and forth may work to overcome whatever is holding you back whether it is an incline, deep snow or getting out of a hole.
The most important thing is preparation and practice. Get help from a qualified driving instructor. Practice driving smoothly and gently while the roads are still clear and dry.
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Affordable American Insurance is a local Colorado independent insurance agency. We represent multiple insurance companies some of which include: Travelers, Safeco, Progressive, The Hartford, and many more.
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Dawn Langford from Master Drive for this great article!