Tips for handling skids on snow or ice
By KIRK BELL For Sun-Times Media November 26, 2012 2:29PM
The subject: Lauren Jean Bell, fine arts major at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She’s a good kid, but stubborn. Too stubborn, in fact, to take driver’s ed, even though her automotive journalist uncle told her she should.
Though she just turned 22, she’s a relatively new driver. In the year and a half since she got her license, she has wrecked one car. A little more driver training couldn’t hurt.
Enter Bridgestone and its Winter Driving School. Last February, Lauren and I headed to Steamboat Springs, Colo., to learn about winter driving. The following is a breakdown of what Lauren and I learned. Please use these tips to make your winter driving experience safer.
Home base for the Bridgestone Winter Driving School is the Steamboat Springs Sheraton. The driving course is a few miles away on several acres of farmland outside the city. Bridgestone offers several versions of the driving school, with courses ranging from a half day to a full day to two days. Find out more at winterdrive.com or by calling (970) 879-6104.
Avoid a skid
The best accident is the one that never happens, so it’s wise to know your car, read the road and conditions, and adjust your speed to avoid a skid. Rain, snow and ice are obvious reasons to reduce your speed, but the shape of the road also can be a good reason to slow down. A road surface that angles away from the direction of the turn is called off camber, and it adds centrifugal force that can make a vehicle lose traction.
Some tires will work better in adverse conditions. Many performance cars come with summer tires that will act like roller skates in winter. Their design doesn’t wick away water or grip into snow and ice very well, and their compound can freeze before the temperature drops to 32 degrees, making them more dangerous in the cold.
Most cars have all-season tires that can perform all year round. These will do a decent job in snow but they can’t match winter tires, like Bridgestone’s Blizzaks, for grip on snow and ice.
No matter how hard we try, sometimes skids are going to happen, so it’s a good idea to know how to control them. As Lauren so eloquently put it: “If I’m squiggling around, I don’t want to be squiggling around. I want to stop squiggling.”
Control the ‘squiggle’
If your car doesn’t have antilock brakes, there’s a driving technique that can help you stop sooner and gain greater control. Commonly called pumping the brakes, Bridgestone calls it cadence braking. The idea is simple. To control a skid without antilock brakes:
Hit the brakes hard until you feel wheel lock up.
Get all the way off the brake, and then hit it again.
Repeat, going faster and faster until you either have control of the car or have come to a stop.
Controlling a skid
Antilock brakes are standard on the vast majority of cars sold within the last decade. Essentially, they do the aforementioned pumping for you, except at a much faster rate than a human can manage. This allows the car to stop faster on slippery pavement and gives the driver control of the steering while braking.
In an avoidance maneuver, the antilock brakes allow steering control, so stopping and missing the obstacle are a simple matter of jamming on the brakes and steering the car at the same time.
Without antilock brakes, it’s a little trickier because it’s best to allow the tires do only one thing at a time: brake, turn or accelerate. The first thing to do is hit the brakes hard and wait for them to lock up and then release. If there is enough room, this step can be repeated. Otherwise, the first stab of the brakes should slow the car enough to gain some steering control so that the next step is to steer the car to avoid the obstacle.
Lauren said she felt comfortable without antilock brakes, and that’s a good thing because her 1998 Kia Sephia doesn’t have them.
“I feel like I have a good amount of control without antilock brakes because I now know how to pump the brakes,” she said. However, she added, “I want a car with antilock brakes. I liked how fast they made me stop.”
Though she was nervous going in, Lauren wasn’t so stubborn that she couldn’t learn something from the Bridgestone Winter Driving School. It gave her some valuable experience with low-grip conditions and the confidence to deal with them.
“Before I was terrified of slides. Slides aren’t bad as long as you know what you’re doing and where you’re going and how to correct it,” she said.
That’s music to the ears of this concerned uncle.
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