Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Winter driving skills melt dangers

Raceway lessons vital safety boost

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MOSPORT INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY -- The goal of the Bridgestone Canadian Winter Driving School, located at the driver development track adjacent to Mosport International Raceway, is to teach the skills needed to negotiate a slippery winter, the simple things so many seemingly fail to do the instant the road turns white -- slow down, drive smoothly and see and be seen.

The course also includes establishing the correct driving position, braking and steering in slippery conditions, understanding how the car reacts to these inputs and how to control the car when things do go pear-shaped. The reality is lessons learned at the driving school can be put into practice during any time of the year.

The course is aimed primarily at new and/or younger drivers, although anyone of any age will benefit. The emphasis on young drivers sinks in quickly when one considers that more 16- to-21-year-olds are killed in cars than by drugs, guns and violence combined. With this chilling statistic in mind, I took my eldest daughter, Lyndsay, 21, to the school. She is new to the driving scene, so the opportunity for her to learn valuable driving techniques in a closed environment under the watchful eye of professional instructors was just too good to pass up.

So many drivers rely on the "might" principle -- the car might steer where it is pointed and it might stop in time to prevent a crunch. That is hardly the best practice. The classroom session not only touches on the aforementioned basics, it also teaches students the importance of keeping their eyes up and looking down the road. This gives the brain the time needed to process the information that's flooding in. This simple technique means nothing comes as a surprise.

If things do go sideways, the instructors stress the importance of looking where you want to go and not at the problem -- stare at an object and your hands will take the car there. Fixating on the problem is why so many drivers end up whacking the only tree there is in a country mile of straight road.

The real fun starts when the class moves outside and theory is put into practice. Sitting in a warm room, the theory seems so easy to execute. The practical experience, as my daughter was quick to learn, is more difficult.

The first demonstration showed why proper winter tires are so very important on an icy/snowy road -- stopping a car from 50 kilometres an hour when it is shod with all-season tires took 4.5 car lengths longer to stop than one wearing winter radials. That is the difference between a close shave and an almighty bang.

In the interests of my daughter getting the best out of the school, I left her to her own devices and under the watchful eyes of the instructors -- every exercise saw an instructor ride shotgun with the student, so they could coach and explain why things were not going as planned.

It is said one should never teach one's son/daughter/spouse to drive -- sage advice unless the two are being coached (and kept apart) by a professional. The school's instructors have the patience of Job and are very good at getting students to put into practice what they learned in the classroom -- so much so that it turned into a fun day that taught some valuable lessons to all participants. Even as an observer, I learned.

Perhaps the most telling comment on the course came from my daughter. On the way to Mosport, she confided that she was beginning to regret accepting the invitation -- the fear factor was setting in. By day's end, her confidence had grown to the point where it was difficult to get her out of the car, never mind off the track.

-- Postmedia News

Confidence key to safe winter drives

By Lyndsay Fletcher

CONFIDENCE is key, especially when it comes to winter driving. This is why classes such as the Bridgestone Canadian Winter Driving School are so important. As someone with almost no experience driving in winter conditions, I was nervous about getting behind the wheel. The instructors at the school changed that quickly. They let all the young drivers in attendance know the only way to fail the course was to not hit a single pylon. If I did not hit a pylon, I was not pushing myself far enough and learning how to control the car after it goes out of control.

Everything I learned at the school was valuable, but there were two main things that really stuck with me. First, look where you want to go. It seems simple enough, but, as I figured out, the car ends up going towards the last place your eyes looked. And every time I lost control of the car on the icy surface, it was because I was looking at the wrong place.

I also learned how important it is to use my eyes properly. The ability to use both focal and peripheral vision makes it so much easier to control the car, especially in bad conditions.

Second, all of the exercises -- from the slalom course to driving around an icy oval with the instructor pulling on the parking brake to get the car spinning -- really drove home the importance of being gentle with the controls.

By the end of the day, I could tell all the driving instructions I had learned were really beginning to work and pay off. On the final racetrack session, looking where I wanted to go was starting to happen naturally. Driving, like other skills, is something learned through hands-on practice and not sitting in a classroom.

If someone had asked me a week ago if all young drivers should go through a winter driving class, I would have said no. After the Bridgestone Canadian Winter Driving School and the lessons I learned, my opinion has completely changed. Winter-driving courses are not just a good idea, they should be mandatory for all young drivers.


-- Postmedia News


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 2, 2012 F3

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