We Alaskans would like there to be a mandatory winter driving course for all drivers new to Alaska. An hour or so would do, just to give those unfamiliar with icy roads a heads-up to keep us all a little safer. A crash course, so to speak.
With all the snow falling on the rest of the country, I thought this would be a good time to share what I have learned over the years about driving on slick roads (mind you, most of it was by trial and error- a good share of which is methods to get out of the ditch!).
To those of you who could have used this information last week, or last month- I apologize.
Here is Bud O's crash course on winter driving:
The first thing to know about driving on snowy, icey roads is; easy does it. Don't try to do anything fast- it just doesn't work on ice. When starting out, gently press on the gas pedal- if your tires start to spin, resist the urge to push down harder, and let off a little- you'll feel it when they start to get a firm grip again. do this every time you feel your tires spinning.
If you are starting from a stop in a parking lot, or at a traffic light, and your tires just spin, try to start very slowly- if you're driving a standard, try starting out in second gear, in an automatic, pull the parking brake a couple of clicks- don't forget to release it when you get moving- the trick is to keep the tires from spinning. Sometimes going from forward to reverse and back again will "rock" you out of the spot (don't do this one at a traffic light). This little trick works when you're stuck in snow, too.
Braking is similar. When you have to brake, do it gently, and when you start to slide, let off, then apply again, till you start to slide, then repeat. This is referred to as pumping the brakes, and is the action mimicked by anti-lock brakes (I always thought a human could do it better).
When turning on ice, avoid using your brakes at all- just let off the gas- a little planning in advance will ensure you're not going too fast to navigate that corner in the first place. If you brake while turning a corner on icey roads, your front tires will likely lock up and slide in a direction straight ahead, and not in the direction which you're hoping to go- you have become a sled, and are not in a car anymore!
If this happens (it will), try not to panic about that other car you're heading for, and take you foot off the brake, and keep your wheels turned in the direction you want to go- as soon as your front tires stop sliding, you will turn again. If there is any loose snow on the road, or gravel- try to get a front tire in it. You will get more traction and control than you will on glare ice. In fact, it is safer to drive as much as you can on the snowier part, but not so close to the ditch that the soft snow pulls you in. I know this is confusing, but a little practice will tell you the best spot to be in.
If the rear of your vehicle starts to slide sideways while going around a corner (that's right, let off the gas) keep steering in the direction you want to go (this is referred to as steering into the slide).
Most of us that have to drive on slick roads 6 months out of the year have some tricks up our sleeves; Put something heavy in your trunk or pickup bed (all those soda or beer cans in the truck bed don't count). It needs to be 75 or 100 pounds to really help you get that extra traction. Fasten it down in a pickup bed- a sudden stop will turn that loose weight into a lethal projectile (this blows the whole idea of driving safely!). A couple of sandbags, or bags of kitty litter will work well for extra weight, and can be poured in front of, or behind spinning tires to get you out of that slick spot (see, now we're thinking!).
Another good item to carry (besides boots, coats, hats, and gloves for everyone in the vehicle) is a square edged shovel- not one of those wimpy snowshovels, but an old fashioned coal shovel, or the like. Many's the time, I've been able to get out of a bad situation by just removing a little snow from in front of my tires to just drive right out (or back out)- really- I can't tell you how many times.
A set of good winter radials, studded or not, can make the difference between white-knuckle driving, and an easy trip. As a teen I drove for years buying any cheap used tires I could get my hands on, and was amazed the first time I bought a good set of all weather radials- I never realized it could be so easy driving on ice!
When starting out on slick roads, it's a good idea to "test" the brakes when there's no traffic around- don't try this doing 60! just drive along at 25 or so, and press on the brakes- it will give you a little insight on how slick it really is. Don't do this on a hill, and don't forget that conditions can change in different locations.
If you aren't familiar with slick roads at all, find an empty lot, and do some good, old fashioned teenage brodies- you know, donuts- try the gas- try the brakes- get a feel for it.
By the way, if you get a ticket, this wasn't my idea- I in no way endorse this juvenile behavior. this blog is for entertainment purposes only.
If you DO end up in the ditch (you will, sooner or later), don't panic. Turn on your emergency flashers, get out, and assess your situation before you floor it and dig in deeper. Set out flares if you have them. Try rocking back and forth, and if you don't have that shovel, try kicking snow out of the way. Keep your front tires facing straight ahead until you get some momentum going. If you are hopelessly stuck, and far from help, stay in the vehicle- use that wonderful cell phone for something really important, for once. I've never been stuck in a ditch in the snow, where someone didn't come along eventually, and at the very least, offer to call for help. Of course, I do live in Alaska, where we all usually still look out for one another. Use your head- if you are alone (and not to be sexist, but 'specially if you are a woman), ask them to call for help- from behind your closed window. Things ain't what they used to be. If you are there for awhile, this is where the coats and hats come in.
The main thing to remember is; drive slower if it's slick. If that impatient guy behind you won't back off, pull over and let him pass- you'll probably be lending your shovel to him further down the road (if you are feeling generous). If you are late to work, remind your boss that you made it in one piece, and will live to work for him/her another day.
I know this seemed pretty serious, but it's a serious topic. If this can help one person find their way safely through the snow, it will be worth the space I have used, and the sleep I have lost writing it (yea, right- like I'd be sleeping now).
I'll try to make my next entry about a lighter subject- any suggestions?
Until then, easy on those brakes, everyone-