Snow and ice driving tips

Another wallop of snow and ice might be headed our way. Even professional driving instructors need to be mindful of ways to adapt during winter storms.

Another wallop of snow and ice might be headed our way. Even professional driving instructors need to be mindful of ways to adapt during winter storms.

Instructor training manager Arthur Van Dyke of SWERVE Driver Training at Redmond High School shared these safe driving tips with his staff, who passed them on to the Redmond Reporter.

• Use that snow brush. Many drivers try to save time and stay warm by scraping out a pair of holes to peek through, one in the windshield and one in the rear window. This is like choosing to drive while wearing blinders. Take your time. Clear the whole viewing area. Brush off the lights, front and back. Brush off the outside mirrors. Clear the snow from the top of the vehicle; you don’t want it to slide down and block your vision. Likewise, clear it from the hood so you aren’t blinded when it blows up against the windshield. You can’t avoid obstacles if you can’t see them.

• Don’t let ice surprise you. If you had to scrape ice off your windshield, it’s a good bet there is ice on the road. When there’s no one right behind you, test the road surface by applying the brakes. If you skid, you’ll know that you need to keep your speed down and give yourself extra room to slow or stop.

• Look and steer where you want to go. Most of us were taught to “steer into the skid.” Many of us, if we’re being honest, will admit that we don’t know what that means. If your vehicle starts to slide, you want to look for an open path and steer into that path. The reason is that your eyes and hands work together; if you’re looking at an obstacle it’s very hard not to aim at it, too. Forget about the direction of the skid. Look for daylight and steer gently toward it.

• Pretend you’re driving a train. If you think of your vehicle as something very heavy, you’ll manage your momentum a lot better. Winter driving is all about controlling momentum — getting your vehicle moving and then slowing it down again. The loss of normal road-to-tire friction changes both of these tasks, and it doesn’t help that you’re often surrounded by drivers who don’t understand the physics of the new environment. You succeed by keeping vehicle’s movement as steady and gradual as you can.

• Less is more. The best course of action on snow or ice is the least course of action. Slamming on the brakes will eliminate what little traction you have, as will hitting the gas or steering sharply. Whenever traction is limited, smoothness equals safety. Every move you make with the steering wheel or the brakes should be small and gentle.

• Keep your eyes on the top half of the windshield. Because it takes so much longer to manage your momentum in slippery conditions, you want extra reaction time. One way to get that time is to have early information about what’s coming. You get that information by looking way up the road where other cars are slowing, or skidding, or having trouble making it up a hill. You have plenty of time, then, to react gently and keep control of your vehicle.

• It’s not a race. In a race, you’d want to be going faster than everyone else. You’d want to be right on the bumper of whoever was in front of you. On wintry roads, you want the exact opposite. Less speed. More room. Winning means getting there, not being ahead of everyone else. Slow down. Back off.

• Remember what ABS and 4-Wheel Drive are designed to do. Anti-lock braking systems are made to let drivers steer and brake simultaneously; used properly, they eliminate skidding on dry pavement. The key words are “on dry pavement.” If your tires aren’t touching pavement, your ABS is not going to be much use. The issue with 4-Wheel Drive is that many drivers think it will help them slow down. It won’t. It’s only helpful in the first half of the momentum equation: it helps your vehicle get moving. It does nothing at all to help you stop moving.

• Use your gears to help you slow down. Shifting an automatic transmission into Neutral will disengage the engine from the tires and thus, help it decelerate — a good move when you’re trying to come to a stop on an icy patch of road. If you’re coming down a hill and don’t want to brake yourself into a skid, it will help to shift into a lower gear. Be careful when shifting to a lower gear … if you down shift while going too fast, the result could be just as bad as a quick jab to the brakes.

• Carry supplies. A small bag with flashlight, blanket, extra clothing, snack bars, and water will help keep you comfortable. A small kit with tire chains, a bag of sand, a set of traction mats, and a snow shovel will get you out when you’re stuck.

• Stay home. This is not possible when your work demands that you be on the road, but when it is possible, it’s the best option of all. The fewer people on the roads, the safer those who must drive will be.

• Hills: Avoid them. If that is not possible, wait until there are no other cars on the hill before going. You want to be able to keep your momentum up that hill.

For more information, call (425) 883-9434 or visit