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Icy Roads

Some guidelines for moving safely on slippery roads:

  • go slowly so your tires can push water through their grooves and maintain traction
  • keep your windows clear with the defroster and windshield wipers
  • brake, change speeds, and turn slowly and gently
  • stay out of neutral -- it reduces your control
  • signal early before a turn, stop, or lane change
  • keep at least three seconds' distance from the vehicle in front of you
  • pump your non-antilock brakes slowly and gently when you need to stop
  • if you skid, turn the wheels in the direction of the skid
  • remember that melting ice is still slippery
  • remember that a four-wheel-drive vehicle can maneuver better on ice, but still can't stop quickly
  • use tire chains if recommended by local road officials
  • make sure all passengers are wearing seat belts

Avoid cruise control on ice. Normally, when you hydroplane or slide, you can ease off the gas and downshift to reduce power to slow the car and maintain control. (Braking makes things worse.) But if you slide with cruise control on, the drive tires will continue to spin at the set speed, so when you regain traction, you'll rocket off in whatever direction you're facing. For better control, leave cruise control off.

Easy does it in a front-wheel-drive vehicle. What if you've turned the wheel, but you keep sliding in your original direction? Don't cut the wheel harder. Let off the gas (avoid braking if you can) and ease up on the turn -- if you're trying to turn right, turn the wheel a bit back to the left. That makes it easier for your tires to control your momentum. When you regain control, steer normally in the direction you want to go, then accelerate slowly.

Don't pump ABS brakes. If your vehicle was made after 1994, chances are it has antilock brakes, but check. This safety technology completely changes how you should brake. In a slippery situation, drivers were traditionally taught to pump brakes to avoid lockup. But ABS systems do the pumping for you, so you must not do it yourself, or you may lose control of the vehicle. When the ABS activates, you'll hear grinding noises and feel the system vibrating -- that's normal, so don't panic. When braking on bad surfaces with ABS, simply steer in the direction you want to go.

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