Due to recent snow storms in the area, it’s not difficult to locate which drivers know what it takes to travel safely and those that are still in the learning process; they are proudly displayed all over the roadside. I, of course, prefer the more experienced winter driver over the not so experienced, since the latter of the two will most likely be the one who can single handedly wipe out an entire section of the highway, causing accidents and holding up traffic for hours. Throw distracted drivers into the mix, and you have a recipe for a long commute.
So what should you do to prepare yourselves and your vehicle for these types of situations? First off, make sure your vehicle has the proper tires for the weather conditions.
All-season tires are a design compromise which allow you to maintain a basic level of both winter and summer performance, but don’t offer maximum control in either season. In some ways, all-season tires are like tennis shoes. Sure, you can wear them on the beach and in the snow, but flip flops on the beach and warm boots in the snow provide better comfort and performance in those specific weather conditions. If you live on the fringe of the Snow Belt and drive in snow once or twice in a winter, then all-season tires will suffice as long as they are relatively new. But for those of us who live in the Snow Belt, or who visit snowy areas on a regular basis, winter performance tires, sometimes called snow tires, are the responsible choice.
The winter tire, or snow tire, is designed to provide maximum performance in low winter temperatures and on ice, snow and slush. This tire performs better due to its combination of more flexible sidewalls, winter tread patterns, deeper tread depth, and perhaps most importantly, tread compounds which remain soft in the lowest winter temperatures. Be wary though: retailers offer a wide range of tires sold as “winter tires” with an “M&S” (mud and snow rating), but they are not at all equal in performance. Many of these tires are thinly disguised all-season or lower quality tire brands, using outdated technology to give the impression that the tires are suitable for winter use.
The best performing winter tires have a mountain/snowflake symbol branded on the tire’s sidewall. The RMA (Rubber Manufacturers Association) designates winter tires that meet the newest severe snow standard with this special symbol. This rating sets the true winter tire apart from other standard M&S rated all-season designs. Tires that have earned this symbol can be expected to provide twenty-five to fifty percent more traction in winter’s worst conditions, which may easily be the difference between driving safely and losing control in the snow and ice. In fact, winter tire technology has improved so dramatically in recent years that several states and provinces are considering requiring the use of winter-specific tires in designated areas to improve traffic safety.
Summer tire tread compounds and tread designs provide the best performance, handling, and wear in warmer temperatures. However, the very attributes that make summer tires work so well, will severely limit their winter performance. A tire that performs brilliantly on high temperature roadways typically has stiff sidewalls and offers a harder, shallower tread compound. This compound becomes even harder, almost like plastic, when exposed to lower winter temperatures. As you have probably noticed, plastic sleds slide quite well on snow. Summer tires won’t help you drive safely in the snow.
Be sure not to be drawn in on tire specials that may or may not perform in the snow or rain, but are great in summertime. Personally, I own two sets of tires for my vehicle, one I use during summer months and the other set for winter driving. This way I know that I have the proper rubber on the road when I need it.
The other important aspect of winter driving is learning to handle the road. It is imperative that drivers of all ages learn to drive in their respective weather conditions. Waiting for the snowfall is probably not the best time to test your skills, if you have not learned how to do so beforehand. Insurance companies can pay dearly during inclement weather conditions, and one spin on the ice might have you wishing you stayed home, or obtained the skills to handle this type of driving conditions.
Here are some safe-driving tips that will help you when roads are slick with ice or snow:
• Get the feel of the road by starting out slowly and testing your steering control and braking ability. Avoid spinning your tires when you start by gently pressing your gas pedal until the car starts to roll. Start slowing down at least three times sooner than you normally would when turning or stopping.
• Equip your vehicle with chains or snow tires. Chains are by far the most effective, and they should be used where ice and snow remain on the roadway. Remember that snow tires can still slide on ice or packed snow, so keep your distance.
• Reduce your speed to correspond with conditions. There is no such thing as a “safe” speed range at which you may drive on snow or ice. You must be extremely cautious until you are able to determine how much traction you can expect from your tires.
• When stopping, avoid sudden movements of the steering wheel and pump the brake gently. Avoid locking up the brakes on glazed ice as it will cause a loss of steering and control. Every city block and every mile of highway may be different, depending upon sun or shade and the surface of the roadway. (Check your vehicle owner’s manual, if the vehicle has anti-lock brakes, you may apply steady pressure to the brake pedal.)
• Maintain a safe interval between you and the car ahead of you according to the conditions of the road. Many needless rear-end crashes occur on icy streets because drivers forget to leave stopping space.
• Keep your vehicle in the best possible driving condition. The lights, tires, brakes, windshield wipers, defroster, and radiator are especially important for winter driving.
• Keep your windows clear. Don’t start driving until the windows are defrosted and clean – even if you’re only going a short distance. In many cities and states it is illegal not to clear your windows of snow and ice.
• Watch for danger or slippery spots ahead. Ice may remain on bridges even though the rest of the road is clear. Snow and ice also stick longer in shaded areas.
For more winter driving tips go to http://winterdrive.com/shop/winter-driving-dvd-s-manuals to purchase a winter driving DVD from Bridgestone.