When it comes to safe driving, no one knows the roads better than top fuel drag racing legend Doug Herbert, who in 2008 lost his two young sons in a tragic car crash. Doug transformed his grief into something positive and created the non-profit teen-focused defensive driving program B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe). Doug and his crew of highly-trained instructors travel the U.S. with their fleet of new vehicles donated by Kia Motors America and give teens and their parents free, hands-on, behind-the-wheel driving exercises like panic braking, drop wheel (off-road) recovery, skid control and distracted driving awareness. Doug has put together a list of his top ten winter driving tips to help you and your loved ones be prepared and stay safe on the roads.
1. NEVER use your vehicle’s cruise control with slick road conditions. Your car’s cruise control does not have a “feel” for loose road conditions and will often add more power at the wrong time causing loss of control of your vehicle. We encourage all drivers to have full control of the accelerator (gas), brakes and steering controls to ensure a safe drive during challenging conditions.
2. Be familiar with your vehicle’s braking system. If you have ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) be sure you know how to activate the ABS system and that you know what it feels like when the system is activated. ABS systems normally make strange noises and vibrations when activated. Test your ABS system in an empty, dry parking lot BEFORE you are experience it in an emergency. If ABS activates, stay on the brakes, look and steer the car in the direction you want to go. ABS=Ability to Brake and Steer out of trouble.
3. Bridges and overpasses are always the first place for icy conditions to develop. Due to the difference in the exposure to air, the surface condition can be worse on a bridge than on the approach road, and a bridge deck always freezes first. Expect traction to be diminished and SLOW DOWN for icy conditions. Less speed allows for better reaction and recovery time.
4. Do your tires have enough tread? Are you using the correct type of tire (winter vs. all-season)? The tread composition of all-season tires can harden in low temperatures, creating less traction between the road and your tires. Winter tires use special rubber compounds that stay flexible in the cold, providing better grip and improved braking, even in extreme conditions. Your vehicle should be properly equipped for the predictable conditions you face in your area.
5. Is your battery in good condition? Most automotive batteries have a typical lifespan of about 3 years and extreme cold requires more energy to start your car. At 0°F, a car’s battery loses about 60 percent of its strength and at 32°F it loses 35 percent. Have your battery inspected at every service interval to ensure you are not stranded during inclement weather.
6. If you know that you are going into a bad weather condition pack a small emergency bag with: two or more blankets, jumper cables, extra clothing, extra phone charger/battery, boots (in case you need to walk to get help), a flashlight and extra batteries, ice scraper, umbrella, water, high calorie non-perishable snacks and a bright piece of cloth. Depending on the weather a snow shovel, kitty litter (or sand) and blocks of wood may be helpful if your car is stuck in snow.
7. Don’t use your cell phone while driving. If you use your phone’s GPS to navigate get a phone mount so that it can be mounted in a location that is easily seen so you do not have to take your eyes off the road. Or, pair your phone to your vehicle’s infotainment center to remain hands-free. The dangers of distracted driving are compounded by bad weather. Below are some tips to help you get your car pre-set before your journey:
a. Set defroster to run automatically
b. Create a playlist before you leave
c. Minimize your radios volume
d. Turn on your headlights before you leave, even if it’s still daylight outside
8. Make sure you understand how your vehicle will behave in low-traction conditions. Front wheel drive vehicles can provide better traction and car control in corners because they can pull you around the corner. Rear wheel drive vehicles push the vehicle and depending on road conditions and vehicle type (sedan vs. pick-up truck), your vehicle could not respond to steering inputs (understeer), or, experience loss of traction on the rear wheels causing the vehicle to spin (oversteer), especially at speeds unsafe for the corners. An all-wheel-drive or 4×4 vehicle allows for traction on all four corners of the car to keep you on the road with maximum traction. With each of these systems, speeds MUST BE REDUCED when it is predictable that traction is limited by snow, ice or sand. Drivers must read the road conditions and adjust their speed accordingly.
9. Windy conditions can cause several hazards for drivers. Depending on your location, high winds can blow snow, dirt or sand across the roadway, reducing visibility and traction. Loose objects may also blow across the path of travel, startling drivers and causing panic steering and braking inputs. In extreme cases, it may be prudent to park in a safe location until the high winds subside to avoid a crash. If you must drive in these conditions, SLOW DOWN and take your time. If you operate a high-profile vehicle like an RV or large box trailer, it would be best to park and wait it out.
10. Every year when the first rain hits the number of traffic crashes dramatically increases. Most every road accumulates oil droppings from day to day travel. The new rain water creates oil slicks on the roadway which reduces traction. Typically, most people drive too fast and experience a loss of traction which results in a crash. In other low lying areas of the roadway, small puddles of water will accumulate and cause tires to hydroplane over the surface when vehicles travel too fast for the road conditions. In these situations, crashes can be avoided by simply SLOWING DOWN and driving with a higher level of situational awareness.