It is that time of year again my friends! Winter in Northeast Ohio, and as they say let the games begin. Some folks who have lived in the Snow Belt all of their lives still seem to need some education with regard to driving properly on ice and snow.
The first big reason that causes some to get into a skidding situation on icy roads is that they are not driving on decent tires rated for ice and snow. It is a little known fact that All Season Tires and not always that good at driving on ice and snow covered roads. Unless the tire says M+S on the side you are probably driving on a tire that is at best a generally good weather tire.
The other issue here is that some drivers seem to procrastinate and they get their tires replaced immediately after the first good snow or ice storm. This is good for the local tire shops, but not always great for the other drivers who did plan ahead and had their tires replaced in the fall. Many of the problems people have with driving in the snow is due to worn or inappropriate tires.
Winter driving safety seems to have taken a back seat to more important things like fixing your hair up nice, or letting everyone in your calling circle know that you just left them or you will be right back to see them again. Face it kids we are not all ice road truckers who are out in the wilderness where you can freeze to death before help arrives. So please let your life and whereabouts be a mystery for seven minutes while you drive to the store again.
There are times when something crazy happens while you are driving and you need to take immediate action in order to avoid a collision or to keep your car out of the ditch. Out here in Northeast Ohio where we live some of the ditches are over six feet deep and these can swallow up a minivan full of soccer moms in a flash. So using the ten and two rule of hands on the steering wheel is quite advisable when our roads are covered with ice and snow.
One of the main issues I see with drivers is that many seem to have no clue what it takes to safely stop a car, truck, or SUV on slippery roads. The fact of the matter is that front wheel and four wheel drive vehicles have given some people far too much confidence in their ability to negotiate these slippery roads safely in their vehicle. The thing many drives fail to realize is that these newer traction technologies are wonderful for getting us going, but when the roads are icy or covered in snow they do not realize that it takes a much greater distance to stop their SUV than it does to accelerate it. Some experts have suggested that locking up your tires on slick roads can extend your stopping distance by three or four times!
Without boring you to death with data regarding static friction versus kinetic friction, suffice it to say that on slick roads with less than perfect tires you will always experience longer stopping times and distances than if you were on dry pavement. It is also important to realize that a car with worn tires will slide more easily during braking when the tires, especially when cannot spin. A rolling tire is always better when trying to stop on slick surfaces. It is also logical that a rolling tire can help keep your car from sliding into a ditch! so on top of turning into a skid you also may need to allow the tires to roll by either lightly working the brakes or by coasting until the car begins to straighten out. There are some situations where a front wheel drive or four wheel drive car will actually need to accelerate slightly in order to pull itself out of a skid. This is due to the drag built into all the mechanical systems that are resisting the cars forward motion.
So steering into a skid with front wheel drive or four wheel drive may actually take a little bit of throttle to enable the drive wheels to help pull you out of the skid! This really does feel odd the first time you try it, but if you take it easy and don’t over-steer the car you will find yourself looking at the road through the windshield instead of the passenger window. In a rear wheel drive car letting off the gas can help minimize the fishtail slide of the back end coming around to be in front. This is due to the drag forces of the drive train gradually slowing you down. This action combined with turning the front wheels to point in the same direction the rear end is sliding can help pull you out of a skid better than any other defensive action. Other factors that will always help are to keep the wheels rolling as a stopped wheel has no ability to help control your direction. And most importantly traveling at a reasonable rate of speed when the roads are slippery will help keep you out of harms way in the first place!
I am a huge fan of going to a desolate paved area where the surface is similar to the roads you drive on and do some skid testing where you can practice getting your car out of a skidding situation. The problem with most of these locations is that someone else usually owns the property, and also at the times which they are empty is usually when the local police have some extra time on their hands and may stop by to see what the heck you were thinking. If you are not a jerk about this then they will usually understand and send you packing with a warning, unless you are damaging property, that is all together different. Also try and be sober, with no guns or empty beer cans lying around in the car.
What some people really need to do in winter is to slow the heck down, the party will still be going on when you get there! Think about this fact, if you are going along at 70 miles per hour for one hour when the speed limit is 65 then you will have about an extra five minutes to enjoy your activity. However if you are driving the same speed for a 15 minute trip to the store then you will have an extra minute and fifteen seconds to spend! This of course is assuming you can do 70 miles per hour the entire fifteen minutes! Face it even the fastest cars take more than a few seconds to get up to 70 mph, and most places people drive have 35 or 45 mile per hour speed limits. So in reality unless you are going cross country then speeding does not really save you much time at all.
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