The following is in no way is endorsed by the Bainbridge Island Police Guild. It is simply what has personally worked for me. Use the information at your own risk.
I love winter. I love the cold, the snow, the wind, the power outages. I actually don’t mind driving in it either, so I’ve been asked to impart some admittedly questionable winter driving knowledge upon you. Who am I? Nobody, really. Just an old, crusty cop who’s been doing the job for way too many years. Not that I’m a driving “God” or anything, but I come from the wintery Midwest and have been driving in nasty weather longer than I care to remember. I’ve seen far too many accidents here on Bainbridge Island which probably could have been prevented if the driver had a little more winter driving knowledge.
We all know to slow down, allow extra spacing between cars, accelerate and brake slower, right? Sure and that goes a long way in helping you keep the shiny side up on your car. Ice seems to be the main culprit in most of the weather related collisions I see. All those ancillary factors above contribute, of course, but ice is usually the root cause. Black ice, clear ice, blue ice, icy ice. It lurks on our island roads, just waiting for unsuspecting motorists. How to deal with driving on it? Here are a few tips that I’ve learned over the years that may help some:
Brakes can be bad when driving on ice. Jam them too hard & you crash. Don’t use them enough and you still crash. Tires that are not turning because you are standing on the brake pedal are doing nothing but sliding in the last direction they were going. You have no control. Also, we know that the engine powers our car and the transmission moves that power to the drive wheels. Here is how to slow down a little quicker on ice: Disengage the transmission so that the engine is not still pushing the car along while you are trying to stop. Put it in neutral and gently push on the brakes. You will be amazed at how much sooner you can stop on ice!
Another “slick trick” to stop sooner, is to use different portions of the roadway for traction. We’ve all seen what the roadway looks like after the sanding truck has long gone by. The sand is soon gone from where everyone else’s tires have been rolling and it’s slick when we want to stop at a stop sign. Did you ever notice that the sand is usually still in the center of your driving lane, as well as near the white line? Just move slightly to your right! Voila! Your left tire will be in the sandy center of your lane and your right tire will be near the sandy white line. Instant traction to help you stop!
So, stopping is only half the problem on ice. How about starting? Our tires tend to spin very easily when we accelerate on slick roads, so the idea is to slow them down somewhat. Automatic transmissions always begin in 1st, or low gear which supplies more power & torque to the drive wheels. To mitigate that acceleration power, try starting out by shifting into second gear to begin moving on a slick roadway. The power is reduced to the drive wheels which tend not to spin as much. You accelerate slower than normal, but at least you do accelerate instead of just spinning your tires.
Another oldie, but a goodie is to use your emergency brake to accelerate. Sounds counter intuitive, huh? Your emergency brake is a mechanical device that applies braking power to only the rear wheels, so this won’t work in a front wheel drive car. (Disclaimer: It also could be dangerous if you don’t do it exactly right!) Ever notice that when you spin your tires on ice that only one of the drive wheels is spinning? That is because most cars have a limited slip differential to help regulate power to the drive wheels. If we can further control that drive power, we can gain traction. If you very gently apply emergency brake pressure while accelerating slowly, you are slowing down the one drive wheel that is spinning on the ice, allowing the limited slip differential to engage the other wheel to begin to supply power as well. Voila! Traction!
Other stuff: We’ve got lots of hills on our beautiful Island. They get slicker than snot when covered in ice and everyone either crashes into the ditch, or they just can’t get up or down them, so they abandon their cars in place. PLEASE don’t do this!! If you leave your car in the middle of the roadway at the bottom of a hill, expect your car to be hit by someone else, and then have fun explaining to your insurance company why you don’t think you’re at fault. Sanding trucks and snow plows also have a very difficult time maneuvering around your abandoned car. PLEASE make immediate arrangements to remove your car from the roadway. If you don’t….we will.
Better yet, how about taking alternate routes to avoid the slick hills in the first place? Figure out your alternate route before you are trying to drive it…in a blizzard…at night.
Expect to see barricades and “Road Closed” signs that we have placed on certain hills and roads when it’s very slick. We place them there because the road is not safe for some reason. PLEASE do not move them or go around them! You have no idea why the road is closed. It could be that there are live wires down, fallen trees could be blocking the road, a giant sinkhole is ahead, zombies, locusts, ….anything! Another good reason for heeding the signs: The fine for disregarding a restrictive sign is $124!
So, don’t be afraid of our roads in winter, just respect them and you’ll get along fine.