Talking way down highway can help drivers recognize hazards

Posted: Monday, October 20, 2003

Whether you've had your license for five or 50 years, when winter snows hit, everyone can use a driving refresher course to get them in the proper mind set for Alaska's adverse road conditions.

According to Mike Moore, driving instructor consultant at Peninsula Driving Academy, the key to safe winter driving is awareness.

"Vision is the most important thing in driving," Moore said. "It's not necessarily what we see that causes us problems, but what we don't see."

Drivers need to constantly monitor the world around them.

"We need to be able to adjust our speed according to the conditions, traffic-wise and weather-wise," he said. "We need to be able to recognize subtle changes in the environment, so we can make subtle changes on control surfaces (likes acceleration and brake pedals)."

A tool drivers can use to make sure they're monitoring conditions is to comment on their driving environment, Moore said. They should read every sign, comment on everything they see and say all their actions out loud.

"Just talk your way right through everything you do," Moore said. "That's an exercise to know we're doing everything correctly, because we're saying it out loud."

Though drivers should practice the basic rules of safety all winter and all year long, there are some winter conditions that are more treacherous than others and that warrant extra care.

"Temperature always dictates conditions," Moore said. "Generally speaking, the most dangerous winter driving temperature is 22 to 36 degrees (Fahren-heit). That's because it's too close to freezing and-or thawing, which are both equally dangerous."

Temperatures in this range are prime conditions for ice, so drivers should be on the lookout for any subtle changes in the environment so they know if these conditions exist.

There are two kinds of ice drivers should look for rough, dirty icy and smooth, clear ice, Moore said.

Of the two, rough ice is the least dangerous because it is recognizable and has more traction. Smooth, clear ice, like black ice, is particularly tricky because drivers usually can't see it until it's too late.

Having precipitation fall on ice can make matters even worse, although between snow and rain, it is much better to have snow on ice.

"Snow is sticky, ice is slicky," Moore said. "It sounds kind of of silly but it's saved my bacon a lot."

If a vehicle does hit a patch of slick ice, it can start to slide or skid.

In a skid, the wheels aren't rolling, but the car is still moving. In this situation, the driver needs to pump the brakes to get the wheels rolling again, since you only have control over speed and direction when the wheels are rolling.

In a slide, the wheels are rolling but the vehicle isn't going in the direction it is supposed to be going. In that situation, a driver should recognize whether it is the back wheels or front wheels that are sliding and turn the wheels in the direction of the slide to regain control, Moore said.

Snow by itself represents more of a visibility problem than a road hazard, since snow generally has good traction. When drivers get caught in a momentary whiteout, they should slow down but try not to stop, since stopping runs the risk of being rear-ended.

Additionally, drivers should keep in mind that pedestrians have the right of way, and drivers should be wary of intersections, bridges and overpasses.

"They always stay slick first and longest," Moore said.

Other than that, it always helps to be aware of other vehicles on the road.

"Watch out for the other guy to do it wrong," Moore said.

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