Monday Medical: Winter driving, the safe way

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— It's that time of year when an influx of visitors mixes with treacherous road conditions. The Bridgestone Winter Driving School here in Steamboat Springs offers these tips for safe winter driving:

Put winter tires on your vehicle because they perform better in winter conditions. A vehicle with winter tires can stop up to 50 percent faster than a vehicle with all-season tires. That may be the difference between life and death on an icy roadway.

Know your car and its brakes. Does your car have anti-lock brakes? Without ABS, emergency stopping may require repeatedly braking firmly until the wheels lock momentarily, then letting up quickly on the brake pedal to allow the wheels to roll and regain grip, and then repeating this in a quicker and lighter fashion until your car stops.

If you must steer while braking without ABS in an emergency situation, take your foot off of the brake, then steer, and when the car is once again in a straight line, resume the pumping technique.

ABS allows the driver to steer while braking. Think of ABS as "Allows you to Brake and Steer." The ABS in your car performs the emergency braking sequence for you electronically so that all you need do in an emergency is hit the brakes hard, holding the pedal down until you stop.

But remember, ABS brakes can't perform miracles. It still takes longer to stop in icy conditions than it does on dry pavement. So be sure to leave more room than usual between you and the car ahead. If you feel your ABS engaging during everyday driving, you are driving too fast for the conditions. Slow down!

Be alert at intersections, as they are typically the most slippery portions of the roadway. With numerous drivers braking in the same area, the road ice becomes smooth and polished. Try to brake or accelerate in areas that offer better grip, such as in fresh snow just outside the two polished ruts that most drivers use.

Also, when stopping on ice, brake harder early and then lighten up on the brake pedal as the car slows. This allows for precise speed adjustment in the event that you encounter a slippery spot.

Beware of phantom shoulders on roads. Many times what appears to be a very wide shoulder is in fact snow that has been pushed off the edge of the road, hiding ditches or steep drop-offs. If you must pull to the side of the road, do so slowly. Be ready to steer back onto the road if it feels soft.

Learn to read the terrain. Bridges and overpasses ice up faster because they are cooled on all sides. Shady areas form ice faster than sunny ones. Snow that has melted on the road during the day becomes glare ice once the sun goes down.

Use grip, or traction, efficiently. Brake only while you are driving in a straight line prior to entering a curve. By taking your foot off of the accelerator and not braking, you will get the maximum amount of grip available for steering. Accelerate once you exit the turn.

The key to safe winter driving is to anticipate problems, respond to them early, and avoid panic. Winter driving can, and should be, an enjoyable, hazard-free experience for everyone.

Mark Cox is a professional race and stunt driver and director of the Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs. For more information about driving safely in winter conditions, visit the Web site at www.winterdrive.com, or call 879-6104.

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