My daughter Hannah turns 16 in April and for the past several months, I’ve been teaching her to drive. Those of us in the Midwest face many types of driving conditions during the winter months ... rain, sleet, ice, hail, and snow, sometimes all in the same day! It can be stressful for experienced adults to navigate in these weather conditions so imagine (or remember) how tough it can be for inexperienced teen drivers.
While she’s getting better with each lesson, this winter hasn’t offered many opportunities for my daughter to drive in snow, at least not here in Southeast Wisconsin. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about the lack of snow; I’d just like her to get a little more experience driving in it.
But that all changed this past weekend when I had the opportunity to enroll her in Road America’s Winter Driving School, sponsored by West Bend and taught by Drive for Life Driving School in Madison. The driving course was covered with snow and ice, and made for the perfect winter driving experience.
The instructors from Drive for Life taught Hannah, and other young drivers, techniques for handling different winter driving conditions. Those techniques included:
1. Skid control and prevention;
2. Braking with ABS and without;
3. Collision avoidance maneuvers; and
4. Proper vision skills.
The instructors also shared these winter driving tips I’d like to pass on to you:
• Identify what type of braking system is equipped on your car. ABS brakes require that you press firmly on the brake pedal and not let off in slippery conditions (rain or snow). They prevent your wheels from locking in emergency situations. Standard brakes, on the other hand, require you to pump the pedal to prevent tire lockup. Regardless of the braking system on your car, you never want to lock the wheels when braking because this will cause you to lose the ability to steer the car.
• Keep a safe following distance. Experts recommend keeping a safe following distance of 8 to 10 seconds. A car traveling at 60mph covers 88 feet per second, so it can take a car traveling on wet or snow-covered roads 6 to 10 seconds, and more than 500 feet, to stop.
• Avoid using cruise control on snow, ice or water. While using cruise control improves gas mileage and prevents leg fatigue, it’s dangerous to use in slippery conditions. The purpose of the cruise control is to keep your tires moving at a consistent speed which you can’t do when driving in tricky conditions. It can cause you to lose control.
• Avoid sudden maneuvers and do one act at a time. When you’re driving on snow and ice, “ask” your vehicle to do one thing at a time: brake in a straight line, turn with as little pedal input as possible, and accelerate in a straight line. Drive as though you have a cup of water on the dashboard and you’re trying not to spill it. A sudden maneuver can throw you into an uncontrollable skid because your tires lose traction.
• Accelerate and decelerate slowly. This is the best method to maintain adequate traction and avoid skids.
• Steer where you want the car to go. When you’re driving, it goes without saying that your eyes are your most important asset. Your eyes tell your hands and feet what to do and can help you maneuver the car to avoid a collision.
• When in doubt, both feet out. When things go wrong (a skid or slide), keep your feet off the pedals. Focus on steering the car.
• Avoid outdriving your headlights. You need to see at least four seconds in front of your vehicle, so look for a non-reflective landmark and start counting. If you reach the landmark before you reach four seconds, slow down. Your headlights illuminate a distance of about 400 feet; make sure you can stop in that space.
• If you don’t need to go out, stay home.
And don’t forget these winter tips:
• Make sure your tires are properly inflated.
• Make sure your tires have adequate tread.
• To avoid gas line freeze in extremely cold temperatures, make sure your gas tank is at least half full.
• Make sure your headlights and windshield wipers are in proper working order.
• Consider putting an emergency supply kit in your car.
Not all of us have the opportunity to learn winter driving techniques in a safe, controlled environment. We learn while driving on our local roads and state highways. I hope these driving safety tips help you and your loved ones stay safer this winter.
Do you have any winter driving tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them; please share them in the box below.