Seven Winter Driving Tips Even Some Vermonters Don't Know — or Observe | Staytripper | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Seven Winter Driving Tips Even Some Vermonters Don't Know — or Observe

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Cars on the winter driving school course at Team O'Neil Rally School - COURTESY OF TEAM O'NEIL RALLY SCHOOL
  • Courtesy Of Team O'neil Rally School
  • Cars on the winter driving school course at Team O'Neil Rally School

Let's be clear: There's no such thing as a car "accident." Whether you call them crashes, wrecks or "Oops! Get me a fresh pair of undies," drivers across the United States slide, collide and roll into other objects and people 16 million times a year, almost invariably because of their own bad decisions.

Though the chances of vehicular mishaps go way up in the winter, drivers can greatly increase their odds of arriving safely at their destinations by heeding some simple advice from the professionals.

Since 1997, Team O'Neil Rally School, just over the border in Dalton, N.H., has run a winter driving school that trains motorists in skid control, accident avoidance and safe vehicle handling on snow, sleet and ice. Below are seven driving tips from Team O'Neil instructors for not leaving skid marks when winter weather turns foul.

Invest in snow tires. Team O'Neil CEO and professional driver Chris Cyr likens an all-season tire to a houseboat: It's adequate at both jobs, but it's neither an excellent house nor an excellent boat. Snow tires are safer than all-season ones even when the pavement is clear and dry because the rubber remains more pliable at lower temperatures and grips the pavement better. If you do nothing else, Cyr advises, buy yourself a set. It's literally where the rubber meets the road.

Prepare for winter driving before the snow flies. If that streaky windshield has irked you all summer and fall, now's the time to address it. Install a new pair of wiper blades, fill the windshield washer fluid reservoir and check that your battery holds a charge. Stash an emergency kit in the trunk that includes spare gloves, a hat, warm clothes, a small shovel, jumper cables, flares and a tow strap. That last item costs about $25 — a fraction of the price of getting towed by a wrecker.

Test road conditions, and your vehicle, after the first snowfall. This is where winter driving prep gets fun! Find a big, empty parking lot, accelerate across it, then hit the brakes and make a few hard turns. Did you skid? Excellent. Now repeat a few dozen times. Doing this early each winter will remind you how your vehicle handles in wet or icy conditions and how to compensate for it. If your car or truck has a traction-control button — typically indicated by a car with squiggly lines below it — practice driving with it turned on and off to see how differently the vehicle handles in both modes.

Cars on the winter driving school course at Team O'Neil Rally School - COURTESY OF TEAM O'NEIL RALLY SCHOOL
  • Courtesy Of Team O'neil Rally School
  • Cars on the winter driving school course at Team O'Neil Rally School

Prioritize your maneuvers. Because tires have limited grip in slippery road conditions, you can slide out of control quickly if you ask them to do too much simultaneously. When traction is poor, separate your accelerating, steering and braking by doing only one at a time. Whenever possible, accelerate and brake in a straight line, then maintain a steady speed while steering around corners.

Look in the direction you want your vehicle to go. When you find yourself sliding or skidding, your natural tendency will be to fixate on an object on the side of the road — which almost ensures that you'll crash into it. If you start to skid, stay calm and focus your eyes on where you want the vehicle to go. Then concentrate on steering into the skid and cautiously accelerating and braking.

Maintain longer distances between vehicles and slow down. Distancing isn't just a good way of preventing the spread of cooties in a pandemic. Snow tires, all-wheel drive, antilock braking systems and traction control won't do much good if you drive too fast or ride up someone's tailpipe. And just because your truck or SUV has beefy tires and enough ground clearance to park above a Prius doesn't make it any safer in winter weather. Trucks and SUVs have higher centers of gravity, making them more prone to roll in a crash. So ease off the gas and leave the tailgating to weekend football games.

Pay attention! This one may seem like a no-brainer, but motorists losing their focus is one of the leading causes of them eating bumper. In rainy, icy or snowy conditions, turn off the radio, hang up the cellphone and crack a window so you can hear the sound of your tires on the road surface. If you can't hear that sizzle of tread moving through the snow, there's a chance you're on black ice. Even when the sun is shining, roads can get icier at higher elevations and in spots that are shady or have a northern exposure. So keep looking down the road for deteriorating conditions.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Slide Rules | Seven winter driving tips even some Vermonters might not know — or observe | Seven winter driving tips even some Vermonters might not know — or observe"

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