The 2018-19 winter has gotten off to a quick start for much of the United States. Stretches of cold temperatures and abundant frozen precipitation have already resulted in slippery driving conditions.
While the weather has been challenging, the public must still continue to go to work, school, and other destinations. Many drivers are intimidated by taking to the roads when a mixed bag of weather has created challenging conditions.
By taking a few simple precautions and being aware of the current conditions, you greatly increase your safety, that of your passengers, and the safety of those around you.
Plan for winter driving – You can be the safest winter driver on the road, but you’re only as good as the tools you use.
Be sure your tires aren’t worn out — or better yet, buy winter tires. Tires with a good tread, intended for winter use, are critical and serve as your point of contact with the road.
Be sure other parts of your car are in good working order: check the health of your wiper blades, make sure the windshield washer fluid is filled, and keep gloves, a hat, a coat, a small shovel, jumper cables, and a tow strap in your vehicle.
When possible, it is also a good habit to keep at least a half tank of gas in your tank during the winter months.
Test the conditions … and your car – Before you are faced with a real-world driving challenge, find a safe, open space and firmly apply your brakes or make a hard turn.
Doing this early in the winter will allow you to know how your car reacts in these conditions, its limits, and how to safely compensate for it.
Doing so throughout the winter and during different storms will give you a better idea of the current conditions and how much steering and braking input you can effectively utilize. This will also allow you to know how much to compensate for the conditions.
Look where you want to go – This simple rule sounds obvious, but keeping it in mind will help you end up where you want to be.
When confronted with an unexpected slide, drivers often will fixate on an object on the side of the road; inevitably, the car will head toward that object.
Remain calm and stay focused on where you want the car to go. Continue to concentrate on driving, and often you will have a positive result.
Prioritize your maneuvers – With limited grip available, if you are using a good amount of one input (steering, braking, accelerating), you must wait to strongly apply another.
For example, when braking hard, if you turn the steering wheel sharply, odds are you will continue straight. Wait until you are releasing the brake and then steadily apply the steering.
Be aware safety systems can be counterproductive – Systems such as ABS (antilock braking system) are in place to keep your wheels from locking up under heavy braking.
When surfaces are slick enough from snow and ice, this may cause you to require several times’ the distance to come to a stop.
Traction control is meant to eliminate the tires spinning faster than the distance of road traveled. Sometimes in winter, however, wheel spin is beneficial in cutting through the top layer of snow/ice and finding grip below it. Be prepared to have trouble accelerating in certain slippery scenarios.
Know these systems and what their positive and negative impacts are.
Team O’Neil Rally School in Dalton, N.H., offers a variety of driving courses for individuals, private companies, and government agencies. For more information, visit www.teamoneil.com.