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


Winter driving adjustments

I wrote of winter vehicle preparation last week.  But with the coming rain, fog, ice, snow and additional hours of darkness, we must make other adjustments to achieve safe driving.

Avoid driving “over your head.”  If road conditions deteriorate beyond your comfort zone, don’t drive.  State troopers prefer that all drivers stay home when driving conditions become extremely treacherous.  If you must drive, prepare yourself and your vehicle for the adverse environment.

From year-to-year we tend to forget how react to slickened roads.  With the first snowfall, I always notice that common sense is uncommon among many drivers trying to cope with it.

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

Plan ahead.  Make use of weather reports and Department of Transportation cameras to make smart decisions about your route and timing.  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. 

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 by two or three times normal when there is snow and ice on the road surface.

When driving on slick surfaces, use gentle input to accomplish maneuvers.  Look far ahead, and concentrate on smooth acceleration, braking and turning.  Changing lanes on the freeway must be made gradually to avoid spins.  Simply backing off the gas pedal too abruptly can initiate spinouts caused from 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 advantageous to momentarily shift to neutral or depress the clutch to obtain even, four-wheel braking when attempting stops where tires are about to lose adhesion.

Do not engage your vehicle’s cruise control on rainy, snowy, or icy roads.  Doing so will increase your chances of a spin and hamper your ability to control one when it happens.

Be alert for obstacles especially when cresting a hill or rounding a bend.  Coming upon stalled vehicles, snow plows or slow drivers suddenly is shocking — always expect the unexpected.

In low-visibility conditions, use the “fog line” at the right hand side of the road as a guide if it’s present. 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 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.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at