How to drive in snow — for Den­ver’s new­com­ers

An ex­pert of­fers tips for win­try con­di­tions as a storm rolls in.

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Danika Wor­thing­ton

Buckle up, Den­ver. You’re go­ing to wake up to snow, ice and Arc­tic cold on Wed­nes­day morn­ing. And when you get be­hind the wheel and turn the key, it’s go­ing to hit some of you: You’ve for­got­ten how to drive in the snow. Or, maybe you’ve just moved to Colorado from a warm weather state, say Cal­i­for­nia, Texas, Florida or Ari­zona, and this is an en­tirely new ex­pe­ri­ence.

“A lot of peo­ple when they’re driv­ing on the roads, they think they know what they’re do­ing,” said Michal Michalkow, owner of First Gear Driv­ing Acad­emy. “But when it comes to it, they don’t.”

Michalkow worked in emer­gency med­i­cal ser­vices for 15 years in New York and Colorado. His com­pany, First Gear, fo­cuses solely on win­ter driv­ing.

“I’ve seen too many peo­ple lose their lives or get hurt badly,” he said.

“They panic, they get ner­vous, they do the op­po­site of what they’re sup­posed to be do­ing,” he added. “By the op­po­site, they hit what they don’t want to hit.”

But the for­get­ful and new­com­ers don’t nec­es­sar­ily have to throw up their hands and head back in­side — al­though if you’re feel­ing un­com­fort­able, don’t risk it and stay home.

Michalkow gave sev­eral tips for ways to stay safe when driv­ing in the snow:

Go easy on the pedals: Michalkow said slam­ming on the breaks or ac­cel­er­at­ing too quickly is a recipe for los­ing con­trol. If a driver needs to slow down, it’s bet­ter to lift the foot off the ac­cel­er­a­tor and al­low the car to slow nat­u­rally.

Mind your speed: It may sound

self-ev­i­dent, but don’t speed. Michalkow was clear that this goes for four­wheel-drive ve­hi­cles, too. Just be­cause a car can go fast doesn’t mean it should. Faster speeds and big­ger cars mean more grav­ity that makes it harder to stop. “The more grav­ity you have, the more chances you have of los­ing con­trol of the ve­hi­cle and spin­ning out,” Michalkow said.

Give some space: No one likes a tail­gater, es­pe­cially when it’s snow­ing. Michalkow said driv­ers should be 3 or 3 K sec­onds be­hind the car in front, which means they can see its tires, un­der nor­mal con­di­tions. Add dis­tance when it’s snowy and wet. AAA rec­om­mends putting 8 to 10 sec­onds be­tween cars.

For­get what your par­ents said about driv­ing into a skid: With modern cars, this school of thought no longer ap­plies. Michalkow said there are three types of skids — front wheel, rear wheel and all wheel — that each use dif­fer­ent tech­niques to get out of.

The best bet is to loosely hold the wheel, take the foot off the ac­cel­er­a­tor and look where you want to go, not the ob­ject you’re try­ing to avoid. “By star­ing at (what you don’t want to hit), your brain’s like, ‘Oh, Michal wants to go in that di­rec­tion.'”

Michalkow com­pared driv­ing a ve­hi­cle to his re­la­tion­ship with his wife. “If I’m rude to her, she’s go­ing to be rude to me.” In­stead, he said a per­son needs to pam­per and be gen­tle with a car, es­pe­cially when skid­ding.

Don’t panic but trust your gut: Don’t tense up and grip the wheel. But if you feel un­com­fort­able, trust your gut. Michalkow rec­om­mended mov­ing to the right lane if you’re on the free­way and slow­ing to a speed you’re com­fort­able with.

Pay at­ten­tion: Driv­ing in the snow is not the time to use a cell phone, tinker with the ra­dio, eat food or put on makeup.

Use proper tires: Michalkow did not have a rec­om­men­da­tion on a spe­cific tire brand. He said a tire works if it’s a win­ter tire with good tread. He said to check to en­sure that tires are prop­erly in­flated.

Kathryn Scott, Den­ver Post file

For­get what your par­ents told you about steer­ing into a skid. With modern cars, that tech­nique no longer ap­plies.

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