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Winter Driving Tips

Published November 30, 2018

If you live in Michigan, thereís no escaping it. Whether itís commuting, driving the kids to school, or going grocery shopping youíll encounter heavy snow at least a few times over the winter months.

To make the months between November and April a little less stressful weíre offering a series of expert tips on driving in winter conditions. Itís likely youíve heard of a few of them, but then maybe not others. In either case, itís good to brush up on your skills before you have to brush off your car.
First, you need to remind yourself that itís more difficult to control your vehicle on a slick or snow-covered surface. Driving slowly is the key to maintaining control on slick roads. All maneuvers Ė accelerating, stopping, and turning Ė take longer and are less predictable when the pavement is covered with snow and ice than they are on dry pavement. Increase your following distance enough so that youíll have plenty of time and space to stop for vehicles ahead of you.

Itís likely that your vehicle is equipped with Antilock Brakes (ABS). Antilock brake systems prevent your wheels from locking up during braking to allow the driver to safely execute an emergency maneuver instead of just skidding straight into the hazard.

If you have antilock brakes, apply firm, continuous pressure to the brake pedal. Youíll feel the brake pedal pulsate but resist the temptation to lift your foot - itís just the ABS systemís way of letting you know that itís working. While you may think of ABS as shortening your stopping distances, itís actually there to provide better control of the vehicle while slowing on slick surfaces. If thereís a hazard in front of you, apply the brakes firmly to engage the ABS, leave your foot firmly on the brake pedal, and steer around the hazard.

When accelerating away from a stop sign or traffic light do so slowly enough to maintain traction. Donít let your tires spin as it can result in a loss of control of the vehicle. And remember that bridges and overpasses freeze before roadways do, so approach them carefully.

Many motorists think that their all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive vehicle is unstoppable in winter driving conditions. Truth is, four-wheel and all-wheel drive systems primarily help you get going in snow, slush, mud, and ice, plus provide a little extra control when turning. However, they wonít help you stop much faster than a front- or rear-wheel-drive car on a slippery road surface.

As winter days are short and nights are long, youíll find yourself driving in the dark more frequently. When you clear your car, truck, or SUV of snow or ice, make certain you clean all the lights, including the tail lights as thatís your only signal to other drivers that youíre slowing. When driving on a warmer day the front of your vehicle can get covered in slush. Make sure to clean your headlights before you head out at night as being able to see as far down the road as your can is an important safety factor.

Donít crowd a snow plow or travel beside it. Snow plows travel slowly, make wide turns, stop often, overlap lanes, and exit the road frequently. Instead, patiently follow the plow as the road behind it is safer to drive on, just donít follow or stop too closely. A snow plow operatorís field-of-vision is limited; if you can't see the mirrors, the driver can't see you. The driver could start to broadcast the materials used to de-ice the road and pummel your vehicle if youíve been following too closely. If youíre following a plow clearly deep snow, stay well behind as a cloud of snow could suddenly be kicked up and greatly limit your visibility.

If you're nervous about driving in winter, consider spending some time practicing. Go to an empty snow-covered parking lot and try sending the car into a little skid on purpose. Slam on the brakes, then practice turning into the skid and see what happens - and practice until you're comfortable regaining control of the car. Doing this in a large, empty parking lot (preferably without light poles) allows you the luxury of skidding without risking your excellent rating with your insurance company. The more comfortable you are maintaining control and regaining control, the better a winter driver you'll be.
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