On-Roading: How to Keep Your Car Out of the Snowy Ditch

With wintry weather a real possibility for those traveling tomorrow, we thought we'd share some safe winter driving tips. Those of you in the north are probably better prepared for snowy conditions, but the chance of snow and slush in Texas can only mean a lot more of this. Anybody have any special tricks?

Time: Give yourself plenty of extra time for getting to your destination. Speed limits are for perfect, dry conditions. On winter's icy roadways, half the speed limit may be suicide.

Vision: Take the time to clear all windows of snow, ice or fog before starting out. Also clear any snow off the hood - it comes loose when driving.

Lights: Even though you can see, drive with low-beam headlights in snow, fog or just winter murk. Keep all lenses free of dirt by wiping them periodically. Dirty headlights can cut visibility by 50 percent or more. Don't forget the directional lights, taillights and rotating lights.

Tires: Be sure your tires have adequate tread for traction in snow and to reduce the risk of hydroplaning in rain or puddles on the road. You may hear that putting extra weight in the trunk or truck bed gives better traction. Traction might be helped a little but at the expense of steering control and longer stopping distance. Likewise, you may hear that reducing tire pressure is another way of increasing traction. Reducing air pressure will not give you more traction and your tires could become seriously underinflated, affecting steering. Keep in mind that every time the outside temperature drops 10 degrees, the tire air pressure goes down about one pound per square inch. Remember too that underinflated tires are the major cause of tire failure.

Ice/Freezing Rain: At 30 degrees ice is twice as slippery as it is at 0 degrees. It also forms first and lasts longer on bridges and in the shade. If you hit an unexpected patch, don't try to brake, accelerate or downshift. Let up on your accelerator and let your vehicle "roll" through the slippery area. When freezing rain is occurring resulting in icing conditions, please pull over to the side of the road until the road has been treated with sand and salt.

Skidding: If you go into a skid, act quickly by taking your foot off the accelerator. Keep your foot off the brake and steer in the direction the rear of the vehicle is skidding. In other works, if you want your vehicle to go right, turn right. If you want it to go left, turn left. Hold the steering wheel firmly, but don't make large turns. Use a light touch to correct the swerve.

Braking: Your owner's manual will usually recommend the braking technique most effective for your car. For front and rear wheel drive vehicles with disc or drum brakes the National Safety council recommends the following procedure: Squeeze your brakes with a slow, steady pressure until just before they lock. When you feel them start to lock, ease off until your wheels are rolling; then squeeze again.

Following Distance: Maintain at least three times the normal following distance on snow or ice. If you are being followed too closely, maintain an extra distance behind the vehicle ahead so that you can slow down or brake gradually. Be prepared to adjust speed and /or stop to avoid colliding with the vehicle in front of you. Plan ahead when approaching intersections to that braking can be done smoothly.

Stay on the Beaten Path: Stay in line when traveling to or from a snow zone. Don't blaze your own trail, especially going downhill - you'll only manage to create a worse situation. You'll even clog the only open space emergency snow vehicles can travel.

Walking on Ice or Snow: After being in a warm vehicle, the soles of shoes or boots are warm enough to melt snow or ice, creating a film of water between the sole and the snow or ice surface. Be especially cautious for the first five minutes after leaving the vehicle. When walking on snow or ice, use short steps and keep your hands out of your pockets. These factors will help you maintain your balance. If you do fall, tuck your arms close to your body and roll with the fall.

Stay Clear of Plows and Sanders: Watch out for these vehicles as you round corners, curbs, etc. They do not travel at a high speed; therefore, you'll tend to come up on them quickly. Slow down. Plows and sanders will pull over periodically to let traffic pass. It's risky to pass on the left of a snowplow because of blowing snow. Never pass on the right. Flying rock can damage your car if you pass a sander. The best advice is to stay three car lengths behind plows and sanders. [CONN DOT]