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


Be winter-ready

Soon, we will experience additional driving challenges.  With winter’s rain, fog, frost, snow and additional hours of darkness, we must prepare for safe vehicle operation.

Don’t drive “over your head.”  If weather and road conditions deteriorate beyond your comfort zone, don’t drive.  It’s actually advisable that all drivers stay home during the most treacherous conditions, but when you must drive, prepare yourself and your vehicle for the environment.

The engine, lights, wipers, battery, brakes and tires should be well-maintained year ‘round, but winter is less forgiving to maintenance deferral.  Clear entire vehicle of snow and ice, keep fuel tank over half full, carry chains (and know how to install them), and keep emergency supplies in trunk.

Plan ahead.  Use 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.

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

Drive slower.  The DOT speed limits are 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.  Change lanes on the freeway with minimal, gradual input to avoid spins.  Even backing off the gas pedal 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 there is rain, snow, or ice on the road surface; it will increase your chances of a spin and hamper your ability to control one when it happens.  

Watch for slow-moving vehicles, especially when cresting a hill or rounding a bend.  Stalled vehicles, snow plows or slow drivers appear very suddenly when the differential of speed is vast.

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.

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 e-mail at