"Slip sliding away, slip sliding away. You know the nearer your destination, the more you slip slide away."
Paul Simon sang it in 1977 (there I go dating myself again) and it's still happening every winter. But with some simple techniques and a bit of practise you can eliminate that 'slip sliding away'.
Traction is the main element to consider when driving in winter conditions and when you have lost traction you are slip sliding. It doesn't matter what the road surface is or what the conditions are; there is a finite amount of grip or traction between the tires of your vehicle and that road.
Once you exceed the available traction and your vehicle is no longer responding to your commands to steer, brake or accelerate, you are no longer in control. Your final destination is now in the hand of Newton-Sir Isaac Newton, that is. Vehicle control is about physics and we learned all that we really need to know about it in high school (grade 9 physics if I recall that far back).
Learning skills to observe these laws can take a bit of practise, but no amount of skill or luck will let you dodge them. Ignore Newton at your peril.
Newton's first law says that an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by another force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by another force. This law is often call 'the law of inertia'.
In driving, if your vehicle is not moving, it doesn't want to move unless acted on by another force. Once your vehicle is moving, it wants to stay moving in the same direction as it is going unless acted upon by other forces.
You exert force to change the speed or direction by altering the speed or path of the tires and as they grip the road, your direction or speed changes; but only if you have maintained traction and they are not skidding.
Abrupt steering, braking or acceleration exerts excessive forces that may exceed the available traction and initiate a skid or spin. That's why controlling with finesse is critical to winter safety. Do everything as smoothly and as gently as you can to keep the vehicle balanced and maintain the tires' grip with the road.
Here are some techniques to try:
- Leave yourself extra space and begin to brake early when you know that you may have to slow or stop. The longer distance that you use to slow, the less traction that you need to stay in control.
- Keep your speed lower than usual on corners and avoid sliding sideways.
- Squeeze and ease the brake and accelerator. Start gently, and gradually increase pressure to minimize the weight shift of the vehicle on braking or acceleration and reduce the chances of traction loss.
- Avoid abrupt steering and use 'total control steering'. Keep your hands at the 9 and 3 o'clock position on the steering wheel and 'shuffle' or 'push and pull' the steering wheel to the left or right. This will help you make directional changes more progressively and maintain your traction.
- Traction is improved when you have good winter tires and enough weight in the vehicle. Drivers with empty rear wheel drive pickup trucks could consider adding weight when conditions are slippery.
- Look well ahead in slippery conditions to plan when you may need to slow or stop. Avoid coming to a complete stop when possible and legal, particularly on hills where more traction is needed to get moving than is needed to keep moving. If you stop on a hill, it's much more difficult to get going.
- Read the road surface and try to drive where there is better traction and minimal ice.
- If you do find yourself sliding away and using your anti-lock brakes, use them correctly. If you feel or hear your anti-lock brakes activating, remember, the right reaction is to push the brake pedal down hard and look and steer where you want to go. Don't let up on the pedal until you are either back under control or stopped. The anti-lock brakes are designed to keep your wheels from locking up and allow you to steer out of danger.
Practise these techniques and you may find yourself singing Randy Bachman instead of Paul Simon and instead of 'Slip Sliding Away', you will be safely 'Rollin' Down the Highway'.
Written By: Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver
About the Author - Spencer McDonald is a respected authority on driver behaviour, psychology and training, and is the founder of Thinking Driver. To learn more about Mr. McDonald, please visit www.thinkingdriver.com.