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NDSP gives winter driving advice

Robert Singer | Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Captain Phil Trent, public information officer at the South Bend Police Department, gave some advice to students who plan to drive on wintry roads: “Practice makes perfect. Give yourself a lot of time and distance between you and the cars in front of you.”

Driving on roads layered by ice and snow is among the adjustments students coming from warmer climates like those found in California and Florida must make in the northern Midwest.

Notre Dame Security Police Major Jeff Korros explained the difference between driving on snow and driving in clear conditions.

“The biggest difference is that you lose traction. The coefficient of friction between the tires and the road surface isn’t there,” he said. “If you steer, you might end up going in a straight line. When you hit the brakes, you slide because there is no stopping ability.”

Korros also pointed to some guidelines for returning to campus in one piece. Drivers should increase their following distance to three seconds, clear all windows beforehand, apply steady brake pressure and in the event that the car loses traction, the driver should release the gas pedal and turn the steering wheel slightly in the direction that the rear-end is drifting.

In slippery conditions, “jabbing” at the brakes will cause tires to lock and slide while “overcorrecting” and turning the wheel too far can cause the car to fishtail out of control, Korros said.

Korros added that students planning a trip off campus should be wary of sudden drops in temperature, as roads that were previously wet can quickly turn to ice.

Korros and Trent both advised people, especially students who lack experience with icy conditions, to avoid driving when weather agencies deem conditions dangerous.

“If there’s a winter weather advisory put out and the Indiana State Police say that the roads are closed, then you should heed those warnings put out by the weather agencies,” Korros said

“It’s certainly a judgment call,” Trent said. “I would say that if you’re not used to driving in conditions like that, I would alter my plans when it’s suggested by the national weather service.”

Trent warned that the most dangerous roads during the winter months are the ones with the thickest traffic, usually in major retail areas.

“The most dangerous intersections are always intersections that are most heavily traveled,” he said. “If you’re going up by the mall, they tend to have multiple intersections. They have more than their share of accidents.”

While slick roads cause accidents to rise in South Bend during the winter months, fatalities and serious injuries do not account for most of the increase, Trent said.

“Serious injury accidents don’t increase that much,” he said. “Fender bender accidents probably increase. 80 percent of our minor accidents occur after it snows.”

While not as dangerous as losing control of your vehicle, dead batteries and frozen fuel lines can be major inconveniences during the winter.

Trent recommended that people make check that their cars pass these kinds of general maintenance tests.

“Make sure that you have a winter survival kit and a blanket and flashlight,” he said. “Dead batteries and frozen gas lines tend to be the major problems.”