Driving Safely On Icy Roads

As if making up for lost time, Old Man Winter is back with a vengeance in parts of the country he's usually hit hard by now.

So there's no doubt people who live in regions with cold climates should be prepared to drive on ice-covered roads.

On The Early Show Wednesday, Robert Sinclair of AAA offered pointers to help assure you don't, as Paul Simon's song says in another context, go "slip slidin' away."

HOW CAN WE MAKE SURE OUR CARS ARE SAFE IN WINTER CONDITIONS?

Tire pressure is critical. It's really important to keep your tires properly inflated. You should be checking it once a week, ideally, and once a month at a minimum. Frequent and wide temperature swings can make a huge difference in tire pressure; you could be losing or have lost nine to 12 pounds per square inch. So you really need to monitor the pressure.

An even better thing to do is to put a dedicated radial snow tire on all four corners of the car. Snow tires are made from rubber compounds that are designed to stay flexible in the cold; normal, year-round tires may be flexible in summer, but become like hardened plastic in the cold.

You need to make sure your car is completely free of any ice or snow; ice or snow falling off the car can put you and other drivers in danger and lead to a crash. Make sure you have not only an ice scraper to scrape the ice off any windows, but a broom to clear any snow off the top of your roof. That is very important.

Have a winter-formula window washer fluid available so your windshield will be less likely to ice over. And make sure your wipers are in good shape.

WHAT'S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER WHEN DRIVING IN ICY CONDITIONS?

Speed. You always need to keep your speed down when driving in ice or snow. Speed is the main cause for any crash in those conditions. Stay at a speed where you feel most comfortable. Remember, speed limits are for ideal conditions. It can take a vehicle nine times longer to come to a stop in wintry conditions, so keep a safe distance between you and the vehicles in front of you.

WE'VE HEARD SO MANY THEORIES ABOUT WHAT TO DO IF YOU HIT A PATCH OF ICE AND BEGIN TO SKID. WHAT'S THE PROPER WAY TO GET THROUGH IT SAFELY?

Most skids are caused by excessive speed in a turn. If you've gone into a turn too hard, the car begins to skid, because it loses traction. In the past, we've been told to steer in the direction of the skid, but that advice applied when vehicles were rear-wheel drive. Many are now front-wheel drive, so the new thinking is to look in the direction that you want to go in and steer in that direction. We are creatures of our eyes, so when you lose control, just keep focused on where you want to go; don't look at walls or other cars, because you will crash into them. Anti-lock brakes will enable wheels to keep turning and enable you to maintain control of steering. Just keep your foot on the gas.

If you don't have anti-lock brakes, use the threshold braking technique. Step on the brakes, sort of like pumping — pump, look and steer. Even on sheer ice, there is a measure of traction available and if you take advantage of that, you should be able to get around it.

IF YOU FIND YOURSELF STUCK DUE TO ICE AND SNOW, HOW SHOULD YOU TRY TO GET THE WHEELS TO STOP SPINNING? IS SALT THE BEST REMEDY?

No. You need an abrasive, non-clumping substance such as kitty litter or sand. You should have a small supply in your trunk for these types of situations. Also, it's best to carry with you a small spade or shovel to help clear away some of that snow and ice. And make sure the tailpipe is clear of snow before driving after a big storm. The fumes can back up and carbon monoxide is an insidiously quick killer.

HOW ABOUT THE IDEA OF KEEPING EXTRA WEIGHT IN YOUR VEHICLE IN WINTER? WHAT'S THE REASONING BEHIND THAT?

Most cars these days are either front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive, so that advice wouldn't help you at all. In fact, that extra weight on the non-driving wheels might work against you, because it may make you more inclined to lose control of the vehicle.

ARE SUVS SAFER IN THE SNOW?

No, and frequently people who drive SUVs think they are, and so don't take as many precautions as they should. SUVs have a high center of gravity and relatively short and narrow wheel-base, and they're prone to rolling over even when the weather is good. If you go sideways, sliding around ice and snow and hit an imperfection in the snow, you're going to go over.

For much more on this from AAA, click here.
  • Brian Dakss

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