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Are you as good a snow driver as you think you are? How about the driver next to you?

How to drive safely in the snow without driving yourself crazy

With snow in the forecast, here are some tips to get you ready for driving in wintry weather.
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With snow in the forecast, here are some tips to get you ready for driving in wintry weather.

Winter driving tips from Bellingham Neighborhood Police Officer Eric Osterkamp, which he first posted to the Next Door social media site. They are from an officer winter driving class, but these tips apply to anyone on the streets in snow and ice.

Before you drive

Check the weather: Pay attention to the environment.

Check your vehicle equipment: Wipers, tires, heater, lights.

Safety equipment: Flares, shovel, flashlights, reflective vest, spare tire, chains, floatation vest.

Preparing to drive: Warm-up the vehicle, defrost windows, remove snow/ice from hood, roof, etc., ensure all lights are visible.

While driving

Sight distance: You can’t see as well due to darkness, rain, reflective surfaces, snow; other driver’s can’t see as well either, so be careful outside the car.

Following distance: As sight distance decreases, following distance should increase and speed should decrease.

Stopping distance: The roadway surface is affected by rain, snow and ice, and decreases the coefficient of the road, which means less stopping power calls for greater stopping distance.

Reaction distance: The average aware driver that is not distracted can begin a reaction to a hazard in 1.5 seconds. This 1.5 seconds includes seeing the hazard, processing that it is a hazard, formulating a tactic to evade the hazard and then to initiate the tactic. This means that at 25 mph a driver will travel 55 feet or more before beginning to brake. As visibility decreases, reaction time increases. It takes you longer to recognize the hazard.

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Yew Street off of Lakeway Drive in Bellingham can be tricky to drive when it snows. Police say to not power up hills. That will start your wheels spinning. It’s better to get up speed before the hill in order for inertia to carry you up. Staff The Bellingham Herald file

Four-wheel drive

Does four-wheel drive brakes make a difference? No. Here are some examples:

At 25 mph it takes a vehicle this distance to stop: Dry pavement, 26 feet; wet pavement, 32 feet; snow, 69 feet; ice, 138 feet.

So, total stopping distance, which is reaction time plus stopping distance is: Dry, 81 feet; wet, 87 feet; snow, 124 feet; ice, 193 feet.

Hazardous conditions

Rain: Increased stopping distance, diminished visibility, hydroplaning, standing water in ruts and puddles affect visibility or performance and reflectivity of wet surfaces increases.

Snow: Even worse stopping distance, hides potential road hazards such as rocks and ruts, covers road signs, brake or headlights, forces tires into ruts.

Ice: The worst for traction and stopping distance, can be difficult to even see or detect that ice exists, is present in areas that often offer low visibility to begin with such as shaded spots, bridge decks, overpasses.

Black ice: It is a thin layer of ice that has frozen once it hits the road surface. This is dangerous because it often occurs when the roads are mostly wet, but maybe the road surface is cold or froze overnight, causing the rain to freeze upon contact. It most often occurs on road surfaces that are exposed underneath, such as, bridges, overpasses and culverts.

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A driver brushes snow off his car in Bellingham. Police recommend removing snow and ice from your vehicle and making sure all lights are visible when you have to drive in the snow. Staff The Bellingham Herald file

Snow and ice driving tips

Don’t be in a hurry.

Accelerate and decelerate slowly and at an even pace.

Drive slower.

Always have your driving lights on.

Increase your following distance from the standard of 3-4 seconds to 8-10 seconds.

Don’t talk on your phone, pay attention to your driving.

Know your brakes. Go to an empty safe area and activate your ABS to familiarize yourself with their operation.

Avoid any sudden steering inputs. Use smooth inputs.

Be prepared for when your tires break loose.

If accelerating, release the gas pedal, and resume acceleration in a controlled smooth application.

If braking, worry about your escape route and steering to avoid hazards. Steer to where you want to go.

Utilize your horn if needed to warn people.

Don’t stop if you can avoid it. Roll slowly because starting a stopped vehicle on a slick surface takes a greater amount of inertia.

Don’t power up hills. This will start your wheels spinning. Get up speed before the hill in order for inertia to carry you up.

Don’t stop going up a hill.

Use your gears to downshift if going down an icy or snowy hill.

If you are stopped, sitting in your car, put your seatbelt on.

If you have to get out of your car, recognize where the natural path of vehicles will slide, usually downhill, with grade. Then, don’t be there.

Julie Shirley directs news coverage for The Bellingham Herald and has been the executive editor since 2003. She’s been an editor in Florida, California and Washington since 1979.
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