Winter Driving; Are Your 4 Points Working For You?
Even though I now live in what is considered a desert, we still get snow occasionally in the winter.
BC has passed a law that drivers must have winter tires, or all seasons that are 'winter' grade.
Unfortunately some drivers think that; a) they don't need to buy them, or b) winter tires make them impervious to road conditions & they can still drive like they did in the summer.
Neither of these ideas are safe if one is on the road for any length of time during the winter months.
The Okanagan is hilly & the roads are windy. Switchbacks, curves & steep inclines are everywhere; even the highways. Good tires & some knowledge about them are essential.
What most people don't realize is; they are driving on four 4 square inch patches of rubber when they are on the road. Those are the only contact points of a car to the road.
If one or more of those squares hits ice, or slush; control of the steering wheel can be lost temporarily or completely, sending a vehicle into a ditch or oncoming traffic.
Many drivers automatically will hit the brake in this situation, but that doesn't always help; & in many cases is the worst thing one can do.
I learned; when racing autocross in summers & during ice racing school in winters, a few facts about the four points of contact with the road & steering control.
- Brake before entering or going around a curve & accelerate out. To control steering one can brake or they can turn. You should't do both. Braking does not allow steering to function as well. The tires are locking/stopping turning & usually the front brakes are more powerful making your 4 point ratio uneven.
- Accelerating slightly is one of the best ways to get a grip on the road. The four points are all engaged & working for you at this point. It is counter intuitive when sliding on ice, but feathering the gas (tapping the gas pedal) makes all the 4 points engage in a common direction.
- Give yourself a bubble. It is difficult, in this impatient society of tailgaters, but keeping one's distance from the vehicle in front is the least one can do. If they lose control you have a chance of slowing down & avoiding them.
- Hard braking, on any surface other than a dry straightaway, is never a good idea. When one 'slams on the brakes' the tires lock / stop moving & there is no longer any control over the steering. Threshold braking, where you can just feel the brakes beginning to engage, allows steering to still be useful & altho slowing, the 4 points are still moving toward a common goal.
- Turn in the direction of a slide. Keep your foot off the brake, feather the gas & control the steering to accelerate to straighten the car.
These are basic driving skills, but many people seem unaware of them when I see them on the road daily.
There have been some terrible collisions these past few months on our roads that might have been avoided if one or more of these 5 skills were used.
A note on 4 wheels drives: Driving in 4 wheel drive is great going forward, but it doesn't give any advantage stopping.
Be safe out there, Spring is on it's way!