We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

‘Steer into skid’ still best advice – Always look where you want the car to go

By Steve Wallace, Victoria Times Colonist, December 29, 2009

The dreaded winter skid is a challenge for many drivers.

The old adage, “steer into the skid” remains the best advice, but it often confuses the new driver. The easiest way to explain how a driver should turn the wheels is to steer opposite the hood movement. Always look where you want the car to go. This will get the drivers, particularly new drivers, steering where they wish to go instead of trying to manipulate the rear end of their vehicle.

The steering action should be in proportion to the skid itself. Many drivers over-correct on the first skid, and are victims of the second more violent skid because of the original over steer. No explanation will ever replace practising in a wide-open space with a professional driving instructor.

Most cars and light trucks and SUVs come equipped with anti-lock braking systems, and this technology requires practice — lots of practice, in fact. Most drivers were taught to pump the brakes in an emergency. (On a personal note, it took me almost three months to be comfortable with my ABS system in winter driving conditions when I switched from a pump-and-steer technique to the new technology.)

Steering and braking were always meant to be separate on older model cars, but now drivers are encouraged to brake and steer while letting the ABS take control and stabilize the vehicle, preventing a violent skid. Some vehicles are equipped with an anti-skid system which transfers the power to the wheels with the most traction in slippery, skid-prone conditions. This, together with stability control reduces the likelihood of a rollover. All new vehicles will be equipped with stability control in 2010.

Winter tires are a must in snow and ice conditions. All-season tires just don’t do the trick when severe weather conditions surprise us. Winter tires have deep, wide grooves allowing snow and water to escape more easily. They are also made of softer, more pliable rubber that actually has a stickier surface with many computer designed mini-grooves to provide greater elasticity and grip on ice, on snow and in heavy rain conditions.

If you do get stuck, never spin the tires continuously. This will only dig a deeper hole in the snow and wear out your tires. It might be possible to “rock” the vehicle back and forth, from forward to reverse gear and back, to provide momentum in whatever direction will best free the vehicle. It is often possible to retrace your path in deep snow to get out of difficult stuck-in-thesnow bank situations.

The most common car crash in winter involves being hit from behind. Drivers who cannot stop in time usually freeze on the brake and simply hope for the best. Winter driving is all about space and time. It will take three times as far to stop in snow as it does on dry pavement and 10 times as far on glare ice.

Professional truckers are always looking for a way out or an escape route when they drive. Because of the sheer weight of their large trucks, stopping is not always an option in an emergency, especially in winter. A loaded trucker is very aware of the potential for his or her cargo coming through the cab with the chance of killing or maiming. We must all be extra careful around large trucks hauling big loads in winter conditions.

As drivers, we should be accommodating to all truckers and help, not hinder, their progress. After all, 90 per cent of what we use is delivered by truckers.

Winter driving requires more skill and safety. Be prepared.
Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Interior of B.C.

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