Here in Colorado, we can’t avoid winter driving. One day it’s sunny, and the next day, we”re blanketed in snow— yet we still have to get the kids to school, drive them to sports practice and take them to doctor’s appointments. And when you have a crying baby or fighting siblings in the back seat of the car, driving in ice and snow can be even more challenging. So what’s a Colorado parent to do
With a little preparation and know-how, winter driving doesn’t have to be unpleasant.
Vision and Response Time
Winter driving puts more variables on the driver’s plate than exist at any other time of the year. Not only do you need to contend with reduced visibility and traction, you also need to adapt to the fact that other cars may not act the way you expect them to. A small car may take a much longer distance to stop, while a heavier truck might stop quicker than expected—it all depends on how they are equipped and the driver’s ability to respond correctly.
Kurt Spitzner, a seasoned driver and instructor from the Bridgestone Winter Driving School (BWDS) in Steamboat Springs, says that vision and response are critical. When it comes to vision, you want to be alert and focus your attention as far down the road as possible, so you can take in the big picture. Doing so will give you the best opportunity to do the right things at the right times. This could be anything from reducing speed, keeping a longer distance between you and the car in front of you, pulling off to the side of the road or braking, among other responses.
Most drivers are reactionary, Spitzner says, which means they are acting in relation to something that has already happened, whether that is sliding around the road or bumping into an obstacle because they lose control on a lowtraction surface.
There’s no way to know with absolute certainty what the car in front, behind or beside you will do on a low-traction surface, so it is best to place yourself on the road where you have the greatest opportunity to look, plan and respond. When you are looking, planning and responding, you have a better chance of remaining calm, which is always best behind the wheel.
In an ideal world, everyone has the cognizance to be responding, and everyone is able to be proactively responsive, thereby avoiding a collision or trouble.
Know Your Tires
Winter tires are important, too, says Spitzner. According to a Bridgestone Tires survey to discover how people feel about winter driving, only one-fourth of people polled put winter tires on their cars. Keeping that in mind, leave a larger space between your vehicle and others during the winter.
In a low-traction environment, like icy, wintry roads, tires are the things that can control rates at which your car stops, starts and corners. Winter tires are specifically engineered for the blistering cold and ice, and therefore, offer better traction and handling during inclement conditions. They are molded with a deeper tread depth, in order to help you grip cold, wet, slushy, icy or snow-covered roadways. They also help you take real bites out of the snow, rather than the tiny nibbles that all-season tires might take.
For convenience, busy parents can order winter tires online, using tirerack.com, or other major tire retailers like Big O and Discount Tire. Woody Rogers, product information specialist for tirerack.com, says that they aim to help consumers with their tire shopping experience by offering comparison test results, consumer survey reviews and personal recommendations, based on how, what and where you drive.
Once you”ve found your tires, you can have them shipped directly to an installer, put them on yourself or have a service like On-Site Tires (onsitetires.com) come to your home and install your tires for you. On-Site Tires will also store all-season tires for you when they”re not in use.
Get Checked Out
Finally, before you hit the road this winter, check the brakes, battery, windshield wipers and make sure wiper and coolant fluids are topped off. “You can make driving in the winter an enjoyable experience,” says Spitzner. “If you’re prepared, relaxed and able to respond.”
Courtney Messenbaugh is a Boulder-based writer and mother of three.
LEARN TO DRIVE IN WINTER
If you’re among the many who loathe winter driving or if you”ve got a teenager in the house, check out Bridgestone Winter Driving School (BWDS) in Steamboat Springs. The full-day Second Gear winter driving course, which attracts drivers from all over, includes:
- A 45-minute briefing on winter driving
- Several miles of snow and ice-covered track to drive on
- An instructor giving real-time instruction to students while on the track
- Pairing up with a driving partner from the class
- Switching between driver/passenger throughout the day
Cost of a full-day class is $495; half-day class $280. winterdrive.com
HOW TO BRAKE IN WINTER WEATHER
How to brake in icy and cold winter conditions depends on whether or not you have antilock brakes (ABS). If you have ABS, which most newer cars do, the correct way to stop quickly on a low-traction surface is to press the pedal firmly and hold it down. Only release pressure when the vehicle comes to a full stop. (Since 2011, all new cars in the U.S. are required to have ABS and electronic stability control.) If you do not have ABS, pump the brakes.
Your car’s ABS system is functioning if, when starting the car, the ABS light illuminates and then goes out after about 8 seconds. If the ABS light stays illuminated, the ABS is not functioning and should be serviced immediately. If no ABS light is ever seen, the car does not have ABS.
SAFER WINTER DRIVING TIPS
- Be alert—watch the road and not your phone.
- Look as far down the road as you can, so you have the best chance of responding to what other cars are doing.
- Place yourself on the road where you have the greatest opportunity to look, plan and respond.
- Leave a larger space between yourself and other cars.
- Invest in winter tires for best traction.
- Consider enrolling in a winter driving course.