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December 2, 2011

Winter weather brings with it wet, snowy or icy roads. Pair these roads with wind or precipitation and you have a potentially dangerous recipe. That’s why it’s of utmost importance to brush up on your safe driving techniques before foul weather hits.

We tracked down one of the country’s best drivers—NASCAR driver Kurt Busch—for advice on this subject. Busch has been driving racecars for more than 15 years and has numerous accolades to his name. If anyone knows about handling a squirrelly car, it’s him.

Q: What’s the best advice you have for driving on slippery roads?

A: Decrease your speed and increase your following distance. Try to avoid following large vehicles as they tend to throw spray from their tires that may limit your visibility. If options exist, try to avoid driving through puddles and standing water. Water on the roadway prevents the tires from making good contact with the surface limiting traction. Make sure your tire tread is in good condition and replace your tire when the treads appear worn. Finally, keep a clean towel in the car to wipe off condensation that may form on your windows. If your windows get fogged, turn on your air conditioner to clear them faster.

Q: How fast can a person safely drive on slippery roads?

A: Not an easy question to answer as there are too many variables. In general, drivers should reduce their normal speed to help compensate for the loss of tire traction.

Q: Should people use cruise control when driving on slippery roads?

A: Cruise control should be avoided on slippery road surfaces. Due to the loss of traction, the vehicle may go out of control or accelerate unexpectedly when traction is regained.

Q: How much space does one need to leave between cars when driving in slick conditions?

A: The needs vary depending on vehicle type, weight, loads and even driver condition. The Smith System recommends a minimum four-second following distance for small vehicles under ideal (sunny, dry roads) conditions. Should the conditions deteriorate, following distance should be increased to compensate.

Q: Does it make a difference if it’s slippery and windy?

A: Yes. This is especially true for high profile vehicles when driving too fast with a crosswind.

Q: If a person has four-wheel-drive, do they still have to be careful when driving on slippery roads?

A: Yes. If traction is lost with the rear wheels, it can also be lost with the front wheels. One other note on this topic: Many people who drive four-wheel-drive vehicles are lulled into the false belief that they have better control in foul weather conditions. Drivers of four-wheel-drive vehicles should use the same degree of caution as those who drive two-wheel-drive vehicles.

Q: What should you do if you start sliding or skidding?

A: Remain calm and avoid hard braking. Hard braking will cause the vehicle to go out of control. Make slow, deliberate maneuvers. Take your foot off the accelerator and steer into the skid until you regain control over the steering.

Q: What is the best way to handle a wet road versus a snowy road versus an icy road?

A: Slow down! Adjust your speed to the conditions. Increase your follow distance and space cushion to the sides. Try to increase your eye lead-time to allow additional time to react to problems in your driving future. For vehicles equipped with ABS, do not pump the brakes. Instead, apply firm, even pressure while steering the vehicle in the direction you intend to travel.

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December 2, 2011

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