Driving on Winter Roads: It's All About the Physics

Driving on Winter Roads: It's All About the Physics

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration, more than 25% of motor vehicle crashes each year occur due to impaired visibility from rain, sleet, snow, and fog or on roadways covered in rain, snow, or ice. That's more than 1.5 million weather-related accidents resulting in approximately 7,100 fatalities and 629,000 injured.

As your fellow American and friendly Michigander, I owe a duty to my country to help others in anyway I can, so I figured that I would share some good information from an article titled, "Master Defensive Driving Skills for Winter Roads" that can be found in latest issue of Living Ready Magazine. The following information comes from the Director of the Bridgestone Winter Driving School, Mark Cox.

Anticipate: Awareness is one of the most important aspects of any survival situation and when driving a heavy, fast-moving vehicle, this fact is no different. Try to minimize distractions. You need to be able to see down the road, read the behavior of the car in front of you, and identify potential hazards quickly. Make sure you are sitting in an upright vertical position with your feet (or at least your non-pedal foot) flat against the floor. This driving position gives you a better feel for the road and also allows your body to follow the aware/alert mindset of your brain. No slouching and relaxing during these circumstances.

React: What you need to be able to understand right away is that with deteriorating road conditions it's not always good to slow down for a given action. Yes, slowing your overall driving speed is a good idea, but in some scenarios you may need to use acceleration in order for the vehicle to do what you want it to do. The main principle here is weight transfer, which can be both the cause and solution to a sliding vehicle.

Weight Transfer: This is one of the most important concepts for safe winter driving. Accelerate and the weight of the vehicle is transferred from the front to the back, decelerate and the weight of the vehicle is transferred from the back to the front. The thing to remember here is that you need to adjust your speed before changing direction. What many drivers have trouble with is separating the use of their controls (speed and direction). Accelerate or decelerate in a straight line, "If you try to brake and steer, you're less than 50% effective at each one. If you just brake or just steer, you're 100% effective."

Slip The Slide: Maximum grip for the tires to prevent the vehicle from sliding, that's the goal in winter driving. As we all know, there are often times when we can't always keep our vehicles from sliding, whether it's because of driver error or an outside force, so how the driver responds to the situation can often determine the difference between arriving at your destination or getting into an accident. Avoid the panic reaction, don't jerk the wheel and don't slam on the brakes. Just because your car is sliding doesn't mean that you're totally out of control. When the vehicle skids, it's time to put your game face on.

Rear Wheel Skid: Slowing down too quickly on a slippery road will cause too much weight to transfer from the back of the vehicle to the front, which means you lose traction from your rear tires. When you feel your vehicle's back end start to slide, point the vehicle in the direction you want to go and accelerate slightly at the same time to get more traction to the rear. This won't add more speed, but instead creates the weight transfer mentioned before, getting more grip in the back where you need it.

Front Wheel Skid: Front wheel skids typically happen when you take a corner or turn too fast; you turn the wheel but realize there's no traction and the vehicle continues in the same direction it was headed. Using your brakes will not help in this situation. Turn the wheels back toward straight (where you were pointing before) and finish the turn.


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