Winter weather means taking greater precautions behind the wheel.
With winter on the way, now is a good time to go over proper procedures and best practices for driving on ice and snow. We’ll hear from driving expert Jim Earnshaw, who has more than 50 years of professional driving experience as a competitor in driving events. He’s also an instructor for several driving schools, including the Sports Car Club of America and The Bloom School of Driving Dynamix.
As an attendee of the Audi Club’s Winter Driving Experience in Seefeld, Austria, Earnshaw learned winter safety tips from driving on a frozen lake. While most of us won’t be doing that this winter, Earnshaw’s skills and expertise can still be applied to everyday driving for the rest of us.
Check the tires
First things first: Earnshaw advised checking your tires to make sure they aren’t worn and are at the correct pressure level. Winter tires can further protect against slippery roads. These specialized tires contain unique tread patterns and rubber compounds that combat the ice and snow and can improve road traction.
Another tip is to maximize visibility. If you can’t see beyond the inside of the car, you’re putting yourself and others at risk. Make sure the car’s windows, mirrors, and lights are free of snow and ice, and that the windshield wipers clean the glass smoothly with each swipe.
Having control of the vehicle is also key to safe driving, especially in the colder months. This includes being able to start, stop and maneuver safely. However, what sounds simple can prove to be quite difficult.
Every time you move the steering wheel or tap the brakes, you shift the car’s weight from front to back or side to side. This can result in sliding.
Keeping the car’s weight properly balanced while in motion is more challenging in adverse conditions because of water, ice or snow on the road that can reduce traction. Whenever there is anything between the tires and the road surface, you’ll have a harder time controlling the car.
Maintaining control also requires an awareness of other drivers, the weather and road conditions, the vehicle’s capabilities, its configuration (for example, rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive), and your ability to maintain composure and respond properly. Drivers contact the car at three points: their body in the seat, their hands on the wheel and their feet on the pedals. A proper driving position is essential to staying in control.
Your body needs to be firmly planted in the seat and secured by the seat belt. Your hands should be at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions on the wheel, and your feet should reach the pedals without stretching.
Just like the road surface and tires, anything between your hands and the steering wheel and feet on the pedals can be a detriment to control. Bulky gloves and heavy-soled boots may make it harder for you to have the most feel for the road conditions. So, leave the extreme winter gear for outdoor adventures only.
Finally, it’s important to increase the space around the car. Be sure to slow down and leave plenty of space between you and other cars on the road. Be deliberate in your actions and maintain balance, and you will maintain control. A good way to remember this is to be like a CAT— concentrate, anticipate and tolerate.
Gina Zammit is a freelance writer based in Connecticut.
Driving on ice and snow – our best tips
Tips for Driving On Ice and Snow
• Never run a vehicle in an enclosed area such as a garage.
• Keep your gas tank at least half full.
• Slow down. Allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you. Accelerate, turn and brake gradually.
• Watch the traffic ahead. Slow down immediately at the sight of brake lights, skidding vehicles or emergency flashers.
• Never use cruise control on slippery roads.
• Avoid unnecessary lane changes. This increases the chances of hitting a patch of ice between lanes, which could cause you to lose traction.
• Don’t power up hills. Hitting the gas on snow-covered roads may result in spinning your wheels.
• Try to brake on ice as little as possible. Brake early on clear pavement to reduce speed and maintain control.
• Control the skid. Slamming on the brakes can make the skid even worse. If you do skid, continue to look and steer where you want to go.
• Don’t brake and turn at the same time. Brake first, then turn, then accelerate.
• Know your brakes. If you have anti-lock brakes and need to slow down quickly, press hard on the pedal. It’s normal for the pedal to vibrate when the ABS is activated.
• Never text or engage in activities that will distract you while driving. If you’re with a passenger, ask them to take care of things that would distract you.
Driving on ice and snow can be rough on your car. Schedule an appointment at your local AAA Car Care Plus or Approved Auto Repair to make sure your vehicle runs smoothly all season long.