Watch your speed, distance when winter driving

By: Eric Czarnik | C&G Newspapers | Published December 24, 2014

 A following distance of four to six seconds behind the car in front will provide some space to maneuver around the vehicle if necessary.

A following distance of four to six seconds behind the car in front will provide some space to maneuver around the vehicle if necessary.

Thinkstock photos

Cars move on wheels instead of skis or ice skates, so safe driving tips are essential when navigating through metro Detroit this winter.

Shellie Simmons, co-owner of Alpine Driving School in Southfield, said one of the simplest things a driver can do to avoid a crash is slow down.

“You have to reduce your speed whenever there is any type of adverse weather conditions,” she said.

She also said it’s a bad idea to slam on the brakes when the streets are icy, wet or snowy. Instead, it’s best to ease on the brake pedal if possible.

Simmons recommended a following distance of four to six seconds behind the car in front. Even when stopped behind a car, there should be some space to maneuver around the vehicle if necessary.

“Don’t tailgate because you won’t be able to stop in time,” she said. “When you stop behind a vehicle, if you can see their back tires touching the roadway, that gives you an out.”

According to Simmons, anti-lock brakes make a difference in how a driver should decelerate. On a car equipped with them, the driver can keep a foot down on the brake pedal while the computer takes over, she said. Cars without this feature require the operator to pump the brake to avert a skid, she explained.

If a driver stops a vehicle in an emergency fashion, the risk of a spin out increases. To prevent this, look more than a block ahead to assess possible dangers, Simmons said.

Motorists also need to pay attention to visibility. Simmons said drivers should turn on the low-beam headlights during a snowfall instead of the high-beam ones, which can cause too much glare.

“The light is so bright that it reflects off the particles of snow or fog,” she said.

Former AAA Michigan spokeswoman Nancy Cain said sometimes it’s best to avoid non-essential driving in snowstorms and other dangerous conditions.

“While you’re driving, if conditions worsen, we really recommend pulling off to a safe spot,” she said.
In slippery conditions, Cain recommended an eight- to 10-second distance between a driver’s vehicle and the vehicle in front. Also, the accelerator should be used gently, and cruise control should be turned off in bad weather, she said. She also discouraged drivers from frequently changing lanes.

“When you’re driving, especially on a four-lane highway, we recommend that you stay in the lane that’s been cleared (of snow) most recently,” she said.

Extra caution is needed when traveling on bridges and overpasses.

“Those are the first places where it gets icy,” she said.

Alpine Driving School in Southfield can be reached at www.alpinedrivingschoolinc.com or at (248) 663-2297. Visit www.michigan.aaa.com to find out more about AAA Michigan.