9 simple things for driving in a New Jersey snowstorm
Thursday night’s predicted snowstorm won’t shut down the state but looks to be enough to make for an awful Friday morning commute. And it will be far from the last this winter.
Wednesday morning’s ice caused hundreds of accidents across the state, one of the worst on Route 18 in Eatontown where a chain reaction 50 car pileup occurred with several serious injuries.
Here are 9 things to keep in mind to avoid trouble when you’re driving in a snowstorm on Jersey’s crowded roads. Some of these you may never have known. Others may be worth reminding yourself.
Increase your following distance
We all know things like slow down. But driving just as slow as the guy in front of you doesn’t help much if you’re following three feet behind him. A good rule of thumb is to think of a normally safe following distance on a dry road then add 6 more seconds to that space. AAA says this ought to put you at a distance where you can still stop in time to avoid a collision if the unexpected happens.
The tentative grip your tire tread has on a snowy road is easily lost when you create a sudden, jerky motion. If you’re accelerating and decelerating gradually and turning your steering wheel gently it doesn’t mean you’re scared to drive in snow. It means you know how you’re supposed to. Car and Driver says you need to visualize a scalding hot cup of coffee resting on your lap and drive in a manner that it won’t spill.
Know what your dashboard lights mean
Ever wonder what that tiny amber light that has the outline of a car with squiggly lines behind it means? That’s your stability control system warning. When this comes on it means your wheels are slipping and the car is trying to tell you to ease off the accelerator. If it comes on during a turn it means you’re starting to slide out of your intended path and, same thing, ease off your accelerator.
Use ABS brakes properly
All new vehicles today come with ABS (anti-lock brake system). You may know that when you hit the brakes you’re supposed to keep your foot firmly planted down on the pedal and not be thrown off when you feel it pushing back at you. But did you know that the computer adjusts the braking power of each wheel independently according to real time road conditions and let’s you maneuver while braking? So if you’re braking to avoid an obstacle you should keep steering! ABS allows you to keep maneuvering the vehicle while braking. Use that wheel.
Judge your traction
Knowing what your road surface is like is important. The safe way to tell just how slick your surface conditions are? Wait till there are no cars anywhere close by you and you’re traveling in a straight line. Then very gently (gently is key) apply your brakes while continuing straight for only a second or two. If you don’t feel the brake pedal kicking back at you and making noise and you feel the car decelerate you know you’re getting decent traction. If the ABS is kicking in however with that sound and feel in the brake pedal and you don’t feel the deceleration you know you’re in very slick conditions and need to drive accordingly.
Stop believing the all-wheel drive myth
All-wheel drive is sending power to all four wheels. From a resting position, it offers pretty good no-slip acceleration. All-wheel drive can get you out of some deep snow too where cars without might get stuck. But as far as traction when turning or stopping? Get rid of your false sense of security. All-wheel drives adds nothing. In no way does it improve your vehicle’s traction in those moments so stop driving like it does.
Use your eyes when skidding
When you lose control and start heading towards something you want to avoid the best thing to do is use an old car racing trick. Race car drivers are experts at coming out of skids because they’ve been trained to simply look at where you want to go. You look at where you want to go and your steering tends to follow.
Steering out of a skid
As far as that steering? If your front end is sliding, taking your foot off the gas pedal should decelerate the car enough to return the traction and you can then aim where you want to go. (Again, use your eyes.) For a rear-end skid you turn your wheel in the same direction the back end is sliding. Back end to the left turn wheel to the left. Back end to the right turn wheel to the right. And never hit your brakes when you’re skidding, only take your foot off the gas.
Look far down the road
It’s scary to know most drivers don’t look nearly far enough down the road before them on a good day. When it’s a snowstorm it’s even more important to look as far down the road as possible. Assess everything. Note how long that light ahead has already been green and think about if it’s going to turn red on you. Get in the mind of that guy waiting to pull out of the parking lot ahead and when he’s likely to do it. Play out in your mind what’s going to happen before it actually does.
Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski only.
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