How to avoid a crash this winter

Tires are the single most important consideration for any driver who plans to drive this winter. Winter tires are necessary in snow-and-ice conditions and mandatory in certain regions of the country. All-season tires do not work well in winter for several reasons. The rubber is not pliable enough. The tread gap is not wide or deep enough.

Even with the best tires available, stopping distances increase by three times in snowy conditions and by as much as ten times on icy roads. The most common crash in winter involves one vehicle hitting another from behind. Most drivers have no idea how far it takes to stop in summer, let alone in winter conditions. When a driver triples the speed in summer, it takes nine times the braking distance to stop a vehicle. Given this undeniable principle of physics, it is almost impossible to judge the stopping distance in winter. That is why it is so important to have a plan of escape when driving in winter conditions. Steering to avoid a crash or hazard is much more effective than attempting to stop. Even if a driver does manage to stop and avoid a crash, there is a strong likelihood of that very driver being rear ended. Always triple the normal following distance in winter conditions, especially when stopping to avoid a crash is the only alternative, such as on bridges and in other confined areas.

Proper lane choice and the awareness of open space is the best way to avoid a collision in winter. This type of driving is practiced by professional drivers every day. It is called “space-cushion driving.” When travelling on a two lane road, it is important to keep ample space in front of and behind the vehicle. It is easy to control the front space, but not so easy to control the back-side spacing.

The effective use of the four-way flashers and/or the brake lights will create rear space and eliminate the threat posed by tailgaters.

Drivers should always be aware of the lateral escape opportunities in every environment in which they drive. We should all have a planned route of escape should it be needed.

On multiple-lane roads, choose the lane that will provide the best surrounding space/escape option. The head-on crash is the most deadly. Do not drive in a lane adjacent to oncoming traffic. A better space/ escape option is to drive in the right-hand lane.

There are always exceptions to every rule. If there are several pedestrians walking on the roadside, it may be best to drive in the left lane of a four-lane, two direction street. In each case, space determines lane choice, not speed. Most professional drivers always drive in a space/escape related manner. The average driver uses speed as the sole determining factor when it comes to lane choice.

Every driver will encounter a skid situation in winter driving conditions. The best way to handle a skid is to look and steer where you wish to go. Past generations were taught to avoid a loss of control in a skid by turning into the skid. This was a confusing way of teaching drivers to avoid a loss of control, because it got people thinking about the rear of the vehicle instead of the front.

Most drivers panic in a skid situation and overcorrect with a violent wheel action. Because of this oversteer, the second correction is where 90 per cent of drivers lose control in a skid. Drivers seldom practise skid correction. When winter arrives, I head for a parking lot covered with snow. “Practice makes perfect” should be every driver’s credo, especially in winter.

Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and the Interior of B.C.

Photograph by: Ashley Fraser, Postmedia News