Weathering La Niña | Steering your way throught wintry roads

With weather predictions leaning towards unusually cold and wet for the Northwest, one local driving expert says you might want to give yourself and your car a sort of “spa” treatment. In this case, “S” is for speed, which needs to be kept reasonable for whatever road conditions exist, said Robert Lindsay, a former police officer, now a program manager and trainer for Swerve Fleet Training, a Redmond-based driver’s school.

Consider adding weight to the back of your truck to help navigate icy road conditions. Redmond was hit with more than a foot of snow in December of 2008.

With weather predictions leaning towards unusually cold and wet for the Northwest, one local driving expert says you might want to give yourself and your car a sort of “spa” treatment.

In this case, “S” is for speed, which needs to be kept reasonable for whatever road conditions exist, said Robert Lindsay, a former police officer, now a program manager and trainer for Swerve Fleet Training, a Redmond-based driver’s school.

The second part of Lindsay’s wintry driving mnemonic device is to check your position on the roadway. And lastly, simply pay attention. But Lindsay also said there are steps drivers need to take before they ever turn the ignition during bad weather.

“First and foremost, check the general road conditions,” he said.

In other words, listen to the radio, watch the TV news and determine if you should even be hitting the streets. Lindsay added if you are overly nervous about driving, it might be best if you simply don’t get behind the wheel unless it’s unavoidable.

One other move to make before leaving your driveway or the curb is to make sure your car is ready. Study up on whether you have the right snow tires or snow chains, if needed, and make sure you know how to use those chains, Lindsay says.

Also, especially for pick-up owners, consider adding some weight to the back of your vehicle as those extra pounds will help that much lighter part of your vehicle adhere to the road. Use sandbags, cinder blocks, whatever works. Just don’t get carried away. Too much rear weight can cause your front end to lift and you could lose traction that way.

For drivers who decide they are ready to hit the winter roads, Lindsay returned to his idea of the “spa” treatment — speed, position, attention.

In terms of speed, he stated that drivers really need to adjust their thinking.

“Just because the sign says ‘60 mph’ doesn’t mean you have to be doing 60 mph,” Lindsay said.

In terms of your position on the road, there are at least a couple of questions you should ask yourself: Should you be in the fast lane on the freeway? Should you be hugging the curb lane even though you can’t see where the curb is through the snow and slush?

As for paying attention, Lindsay said that means putting away the phone, avoiding eating and drinking and just generally watching your surroundings more than you might do normally.

If, despite your best efforts, your car starts to slide around, Lindsay said the standard advice is to turn the steering wheel in the same direction as your car is sliding in order to stop the skid. That is not a good idea, according to Lindsay, who said the main problem is you might not be able to tell the direction of any slide. He suggests simply steering the car in the direction you want the car to go. Look in that direction, Lindsay added, and you will steer in the right direction.

Lindsay also offered a word or two on braking. He said to keep in mind that your anti-lock brakes won’t stop you from skidding on snow or ice. Again, he advises to ignore the old advice, which in this instance says to pump your brakes to keep from sliding. First, pumping is pretty pointless with the anti-lock brakes that most cars now have. Lindsay suggests applying pressure gradually to your brakes, then easing off, sort of using a manual anti-lock breaking technique. If needed, pop your car into neutral, stopping your tires from spinning and adding to your stopping capabilities.

This time of year, Lindsay spends a lot of his time helping Swerve show drivers how to cope with bad weather. Later this month, in cooperation with AAA, Swerve will offer what they bill as a hands-on winter driving course at Emerald Downs in Auburn.

For more information on Swerve classes, go to www.goswerve.com or call (877)-7SWERVE.

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