We rarely get hit with harsh winter weather in Florida. But December brought record low temperatures, and some of us even saw ice on our windshields. Even in neighboring Georgia, ice and snow recently have caused havoc. To be prepared, here are a few pointers on how to drive in wintry conditions. Staff and wire reports
Icy windshields: Not many of us have ice scrapers in our cars. No problem. Crank up the defroster, then grab a credit card from your wallet to do some scraping. Make sure you wait until you have a clear view out before you hit the road.
Drive according to road conditions, not the speed limit: When driving is a challenge, slowing down will allow more time to respond. Drivers should go with the flow in bad weather. Police might pull over aggressive drivers, even if they're going below the speed limit.
Reduce your speed: Leave yourself plenty of room to stop. Allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you. Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists.
Icy spots: Be careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.
Anticipate problems: Drivers should be prepared for difficult situations by looking down the road far enough to identify potential problems. They also should be aware of drivers coming from other lanes and cross streets.
Use the car's gripping ability effectively: Use low gears to maintain traction, especially on hills. Don't use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads. When making a turn on slippery roads, brake only before turning. Don't accelerate until straightening the steering wheel after turning.
Don't overestimate 4WD vehicles: Four-wheel drive does not improve braking or cornering, experts say. "A lot of people who drive SUVs have a false sense of confidence," said Mark Cox, director of the Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs, Colo. "They press the gas and it leaps forward with no problem. But when it comes time to steer or brake, they have no advantage over a two-wheel-drive vehicle, and maybe even a disadvantage because there's more weight to stop and control."
Smooth, light braking: With ABS (anti-lock braking system), press the pedal hard and hold it down. Don't be misled by ABS. Even with ABS, too much speed going into a corner won't keep a car on the road. "Ice and snow magnify poor driving technique," Cox said. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brakes.
Keep both hands on the wheel at 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock positions: Avoid hand-over-hand steering. Keep the right hand on the right side of the wheel and the left hand on the left. This technique can help avoid skids.
If you come across a snowplow: Give them some room. Snowplows travel about 30 mph, so motorists should expect delays. When it is safe to pass, the plows spread out and allow traffic to flow around them.
Sources: Chicago Tribune, Weather.com, National Safety Council, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, Washington State Government Information & Services