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EXPERT OPINION: Winter driving, with Dennis Conway

What’s the number-one mistake of winter drivers? Not preparing for what they know is coming. People have short memories, and they don’t like to plan ahead for in- conveniences like snow and ice. Prepa- rations should include ensuring your windshield washer is filled and your tires are good—I recommend switching to snow tires rather than leaving on the “all-weather” tires, especially for small, lightweight cars. Make sure you have an ice scraper in the car. It’s also smart to put a milk crate with a bag of sand into the trunk, and to tuck a hand-crank flashlight into the glove compartment. On long trips, keep the gas tank at least half-full in case you get stuck and need the car heater. Second-most common mistake: For-

getting that bad weather will make your drive take longer. Realize and accept that a 20-minute trip will take you 30 minutes on a snowy day, so you’ll need to start earlier.

What makes cars skid off the road? Often it’s more about braking than steering. On a slick road, your stopping distance is much, much longer. You need to anticipate and slow down gradually: first taking your foot off the gas, to start decelerating so you won’t need as much brake, then using a delicate touch on the brake to avoid skidding. People drive with one hand

(or even two fingers!) pretty routinely, but in the winter, put both hands on the wheel— ideally at the 2 o’clock and 10 o’clock positions—to steer through any turning or braking.

Four-wheel drive gives too many peo-

ple a false sense of security. In a snowy parking lot or up a hill, it can keep the vehicle moving where a two-wheel- drive car might get stuck, but it’s not safer for driving at full speed. Curves still need to be taken very slowly, coast- ing into them without braking if possible, and accelerating carefully out of them. State troopers always say many of the cars they find off the highway are four- wheel drives. Also, I don’t trust cruise-control in bad weather. Its steady pres- sure on the gas is not respon- sive to surface conditions and it can make the tires slip.

If I skid off the road, what should I do? Stay in the vehi- cle, except to attach a flag or ribbon to the antenna

or side mirror if you can. To stay warm, turn on the car heater for 10 minutes every hour (if your gas tank isn’t too low, that can keep you safe for a lot of hours). But keep checking that the car’s exhaust pipe isn’t blocked by snow, and open the window a crack while you run the car, to let in a little fresh air. If the heater fails, at some point you might have to leave the car and try to find help.

How can new drivers get prepared? To learn about driving in bad

weather before you go out on a busy road, practice in a big, empty parking lot, away from light poles or other obstacles.

Accelerate to 30 mph and then try some turns and stops. That’ll show you right away if you’re over - steer ing or too strong on the brake, and it will let you feel the vibration of anti lock brakes.

You don’t want to be learning about this during your first emergency stop in traffic.

Former New York State trooper Dennis Conway has been Skidmore’s campus- safety director since 2000.



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