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author photo by Mike Strong October 2007

The leaves are turning colors and that can only mean one thing: Snow will be coming soon. In fact, some areas of the country have already seen some of the white stuff, which means that drivers are going to need to remember some basic rules of the road.

The first thing drivers should remember in snowy, icy conditions is to slow down. AAA Michigan suggests that traveling too fast for conditions is one of the primary causes behind many accidents. Jerry Basch, AAA Michigan's Community Safety Services manager, said drivers should slow down and increase the distance between you and the car in front of you from three seconds to six seconds.

Basch suggests picking out a roadside object, such as a sign or bridge, and as soon as the car or truck in front of you passes it, begin counting to six. If you pass the landmark before reaching six, then slow down.

"You're tailgating if you get to that spot before counting to six," he said. "Too close for safety on slippery roads."

Looking for trouble

Drivers need to be alert when traveling in freezing temperatures. Basch said that high-risk areas are under overpasses and bridges where it's shaded, but well traveled. The ice and snow can be polished to a nice, slick patch that makes stopping nearly impossible. He adds that stopping distances at the 32-degree freezing point are twice as great as at zero temperatures.

A little common sense goes a long way in the winter. Drivers need to ensure their vehicles are ready for use before they even climb behind the wheel. Clear all the snow off of your vehicle. That means off every bit of it: Windows, hood, trunk, turn signal lenses, head lights and mirrors.

Additionally, use low-beam headlights in foggy conditions. They provide better illumination than high beams.

On the road

Being like the tortoise, rather than the hare, is the best method for getting around town in tough winter conditions. Avoid quick starts, stops and turns whenever possible. These sudden movements can cause wheels to spin or lose their grip on the road and drivers lose control of their vehicles.

If you do begin to experience a loss of control there are two factors that play into how a driver can regain control of the vehicle: braking and steering.

If you are driving a vehicle with anti-lock brakes, once you depress the brake pedal, keep it to the floor. This should be done no matter what, especially if the pedal vibrates. Statistics show this is the toughest part for drivers with ABS-equipped vehicles to get past. The brake pedals of many vehicles vibrate when the ABS is active. This frightens many drivers and their reaction is to release the brake.

If your vehicle does not have ABS, the driver should employ threshold or squeeze braking. This is where the driver "pumps" the brakes trying to slow down the wheels without locking the wheels.

While using the brakes, drivers should steer the vehicle in the direction they want it to go. Once the vehicle begins to move in that direction, then gently turn the wheel into the desired direction.

Technological distractions

Finally, in an era of cell phones, in-vehicle entertainment systems, navigation systems and other distractions, drivers need to be more cognizant than ever about ignoring those devices when driving in winter weather.

"Driver inattention is estimated to be a factor in 25 to 50 percent of all highway collisions," Basch said. "Add reduced visibility and snow-covered or slippery roads, and even greater driver awareness is needed, which means the slightest distraction could cause loss of control and a deadly incident."

When all else fails

In the event you cannot avoid getting stuck in a ditch or colliding with another vehicle, there are some things you should keep in your vehicle that can make the event less traumatic and perhaps could even save your life.

A fully stocked first aid kit and some basic tools are first and foremost. Additionally, if you own one, make sure a cell phone has a fully charged battery at all times.

Michigan State Police recommend taking some precautions before leaving for a destination: Tell someone where you're going, how you're going to get there and how long you expect it will take for you to get there.

If the car is disabled, immediately turn on the hazard lights. This will allow oncoming traffic to see your vehicle. Additionally, it will make it easier for you to be located by police, emergency vehicles and/or tow trucks.

Additionally, if you are in the car or truck, and are approached by someone offering assistance, keep the doors closed and locked, talk to the person through closed windows and ask the person offering assistance to call the police.

Winter Driving Hints

  • Slow down. Give yourself six seconds behind the vehicle in front when it’s nasty outside.
  • Look for trouble. Ice happens more often in shady places. Use your eyes - and use your low beams when the wet stuff comes down.
  • Give yourself a brake. If you’ve got anti-lock brakes, let them do the work. Push the pedal to the floor if need be. If not, make sure to modulate brake pedal pressure so you don’t lock up a wheel. Stay aware. And stay off the cell phone while you’re driving.
  • Give yourself some help. Carry a first-aid kit for emergencies.



© 2000 The Car Connection

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Weather / Seasonal Driving - Autotrader