Skidding can happen on any surface, so stay alert to road conditions

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identifies three kinds of skids: braking, power, and turning. If your car goes into a skid, the first reaction a driver usually has is to punch the brake pedal, but this maneuver can only throw the car out of control completely. Instead, take your foot off the accelerator pedal and turn the wheels into the skid. Rapidly pumping the brakes, but only lightly, also may reduce the skid.

Be prepared to flip the wheel to get back on a straight course when the car swings around.

If you brake on ice, the vehicle will skid in the same direction, because you've locked the wheels and the tires have no traction. If you apply more power while driving straight ahead, the car can spin completely around. And with a sudden turn, the rear of the car will spin in the opposite direction, because the momentum causes the rear wheels to lose their grip on the road.

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Maintain slow, even speed on icy slopes and hills and use the lower gears, especially when descending an icy slope. Your car won't slip even at 40 or 50 m.p.h. if you move in a straight line without accelerating, decelerating, or applying the brakes.

The rule is this: Avoid abrupt changes in direction and anticipate lane changes and turns coming up. All turns should be made gradually.

Look for ice patches in areas that are shaded by trees, deep highway cuts, and underpasses on expressways. Bridges freeze before normal road surfaces, because the cold air can pass beneath. If you need to turn into an exit from an expressway but will pass under an overpass, slow down before you get to the icy underpass. Then slowly and smoothly make your turning exit.

``To stop on icy pavements you need three to 12 times the distance,'' according to the safety agency.

A very good practice to follow when driving in rain or snow is to guide the car's tires in the tracks of the car in front. The soft hissing sounds from the tires will tell you when you're in the other car's tracks. Simply veer slightly to the right or left, as required.

On dry pavements, squealing tires give a warning of an impending loss of traction when going around a curve. Ease off the gas and avoid braking, if possible. Tire type, condition, and inflation all influence cornering and braking. Good tire tread holds the road better.

Belted bias-ply tires start squealing sooner than radials, yet bias-ply tires squeal over a wider speed range.

Skidding can happen on any road condition: dry, if you're turning too sharply; sand or gravel; rain-slicked or coated with oil; and packed snow and ice. Even heavily salted roads become coated with an invisible film. The greatest risk of skidding occurs when the temperature is close to the freezing mark.

Also, you'll help your car on icy roads if you add some weight in the back on rear-drive cars, such as bags of sand or rock salt. Put the bags as far forward in the trunk as you can to keep them from weighing down the rear bumper and raising up the front end.

Station wagons also need the weight as far forward as possible.

Remember to ride on well-treaded tires. The Safe Winter Driving League reminds motorists that worn tires take far more distance to stop a car than new tires.

Second in a series of articles on how to handle an emergency situation on the highway. The third will appear tomorrow.

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