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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Adjust to winter driving

Soon, we are likely to experience additional driving challenges.  With the advent of winter’s rain, fog, ice, snow and additional hours of darkness, we must adjust our driving behavior accordingly to be safe.

First, never drive “over your head.”  If weather and road conditions deteriorate beyond your comfort zone to drive, don’t.  It’s actually advisable that all drivers stay home when driving conditions become treacherous; mass transit may be a viable option for some.  If you must drive, prepare yourself and your vehicle for the adverse environment.

Much of this is should be common sense, but from year-to-year we tend to forget.  When the first snowfall arrives, I always notice that common sense is quite uncommon among drivers I see attempting to cope with it.

Your vehicle’s engine, lights, wipers, battery, brakes, tires, et cetera, should be well-maintained year ‘round, but the winter is less forgiving in regard to those items.  Additionally, for winter, clear windows and headlights of snow and ice, keep fuel tank over half full, carry chains (and know how to install them), and keep emergency items (flashlight, gloves, shovel, blanket, etc) in trunk.

Plan ahead.  Make use of weather reports and Department of Transportation cameras to make smart decisions about your route and timing.  Let others know of your departure and inform them upon your arrival.

Once underway, remember to keep a loose grip on the steering wheel.  A viselike squeeze will transfer tension from your hands to your body to your brain.  This is one of the first things taught in performance driving courses.

Drive with proper rest and slow down.  The DOT sets speed limits for clear, dry conditions; degrees of slickness vary for rain, snow or ice, and so must your degrees of speed.  Increase following distances two to three times the norm when there is snow and ice on the road surface.

When driving on slick surfaces, employ gentle input to accomplish maneuvers.  Look far ahead, and concentrate on smooth and easy acceleration, braking and turning.  Changing lanes on the freeway must be made with minimal, gradual input to avoid spins.  Even backing off the gas pedal to abruptly can initiate spinouts caused from unwanted engine “braking” occurring at the front wheels of front-wheel drive vehicles, the rear wheels of rear-wheel vehicles, and all of the wheels of four-wheel drive cars and trucks.

To avoid undesired engine “braking” during rapid deceleration or stopping, it’s often advantageous to momentarily shift to neutral or depress the clutch to obtain even, four-wheel braking when attempting stops where tires have lost, or are about to lose, adhesion.

Do not engage your vehicle’s cruise control when you experience rain, snow, or ice on the road surface.  Doing so will increase your chances of a spin and hamper your ability to control one when it happens.  Cruise control mechanisms will deliver unpredictable engine power when wheel spin occurs.

Be alert for slow-moving vehicles, especially when cresting a hill or rounding a bend.  One can come upon stalled vehicles, snow plows or slow drivers very suddenly when the differential of speed is vast; expect the unexpected.

In low-visibility conditions, use the “fog line” at the right hand side of the road as a guide; if that is absent, use guard rails and roadside reflectors as visible assists.  If you can’t find your way, pull completely off the road, turn on four-way flashers, and wait for conditions to improve.

If you start to skid, ease off the accelerator pedal and turn the steering wheel in the direction you want the front of the car to go.  This correction should be mild when the skid is caught immediately, but may have to be drastic if the skid is advanced.  Controlling a skidding vehicle takes plenty of finesse, and no written tip can replace competence and experience.  The best advice is to drive so as to avoid the skid by observing the recommendations above.

By the end of each winter, many drivers have gotten pretty good at winter driving.  It’s the early snowfalls and icy roadways that catch many of us by surprise, especially new drivers, so let’s be prepared.

Readers may contact Bill Love via email at