Today’s lesson: Winter’s wrath demands more from drivers

Todays lesson: Winters wrath demands more from drivers

Sophomore Adam Wolfe takes the wheel for a winter driving lesson from Jeff Caldwell, who manages PDS Driving School.

Growing up comes with many new and different responsibilities. For some, it may be taking care of a younger sibling, going off to college, or getting a job. But the most dangerous responsibility facing most teens is getting a driver’s license. Driving can be dangerous enough, especially for teens, but it gets even worse as winter rolls in and the temperature begins to drop.

Ohio gets harsh weather like many Midwest states. Freezing temperatures, snow, sleet and ice all negatively affect road conditions for driving. Car accidents are generally more severe and plentiful during the winter because many people don’t take the necessary precautions before and during driving.

The Flyer asked Jeff Caldwell of Professional Driving Systems (PDS) Driving School to share his advice on driving in wintry conditions. In addition to his driving school credentials, Caldwell brings expertise based on his 30-year career as a Kettering police officer. 

Caldwell believes many accidents aren’t just because of bad conditions caused by the weather. “A common problem with winter driving is that people don’t try to drive with the conditions. The conditions aren’t the things that cause crashes, it’s the people driving,” said Caldwell.

People can take plenty of measures to prepare themselves and their cars for the slick conditions of winter driving. 

For example, Caldwell said visibility is a big deal. Believe it or not, wearing sunglasses can help a driver a lot. The sun’s reflection off the snow can be very bright and impair the vision of a driver, and sunglasses can block the glare. In addition, Caldwell said a driver should always scrape ice and brush snow off the hood, trunk, lights and windows.  This will help make the driver visible to other drivers and give the driver a full line of sight. “People need to plan ahead. They think that it’s no big deal to drive out in the snow and ice with low visibility,” said Caldwell.

This Flyer reporter (and fairly new driver) asked Caldwell to go beyond giving advice and asked for some hands-on experience with some harsh winter driving. Caldwell obliged.

Don’t try this at home

After meeting with Caldwell at his office, we drove out in a PDS car to a snowy, icy and thankfully empty parking lot to slip and slide around. He let me take the wheel, and since the parking lot was fairly large, I could build up a moderately fast speed. Then Caldwell had me test different things that readers shouldn’t try at home.

I stomped on the brakes to see how my car would slide, and I turned the wheel sharply to see how the back side of the car would spin around. All in all, this experience was really helpful in showing me how a car similar to mine would behave on the icy and snowy conditions of the road and also how to avoid these type of situations.

Luckily, no one was hurt, but I learned some valuable lessons.

How to stay safe

How a person steers contributes to safer winter driving. Many people may take faster and sharper turns when it’s warmer outside, but slick conditions require drivers to smooth everything out. A person should go into turns more slowly than usual while also trying to turn the wheel gradually instead of sharply.

Another measure drivers should take is increasing following distance. As the roads get icy and slippery, cars lose more traction with the road. This loss of traction can lead to sliding and an inability to stop, therefore causing more crashes than normal. Following distance should be increased from 4 to 5 seconds to 8 to 10 seconds to give the car more time to stop and give the driver more time to react. 

I also learned that when you’re trying to stop, you shouldn’t push the brake as hard as you normally would. Instead, drivers should apply soft and steady pressure to the brake to ease to a stop and prevent sliding.

Depending on the type of car, it may have more or less traction with the road. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are the best type of car for safe driving because they use the entire weight of the car on all the wheels to help it move. “If you only have a two-wheel drive vehicle, then front-wheel drive works better than rear-wheel-drive. This is because the weight of the engine on the front wheels adds more traction with the ground,” said Caldwell.

Overall, the winter conditions do make it more dangerous to drive, but people can take the necessary precautions to prevent accidents. People cause the crashes, not the conditions. If you take the time to prepare and drive safely, the risk of an accident greatly decreases.

“Overall my advice to any driver is to just plan ahead, drive smoother, and be more cautious,” said Caldwell.