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Winter driving is an art unto itself

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Over the last couple of weeks, like everyone else I have contemplated with awe and just a little apprehension the ferocious conditions we’ve been enduring. But it wasn’t until two weekends ago (right after the turn of the year) that winter got really personal.

I had plugged in my car, as usual,l for about three hours before I needed it. But I hadn’t noticed that the little light in the female end of the extension cord was not lit — the cable wasn’t working. So, of course, when I tried to start it there was nothing but a dismal clicking from the starter.

I didn’t really need the car right then, so I rigged another cord and tried again the next day (Sunday). Still no good. So I called CAA at 2 p.m.; they didn’t arrive until 5 p.m. on Monday.
The driver was in a good mood. I suspect he’d realized that there was no point in bad temper — conditions were what they were and no amount of cursing was going to help.

As I’d had it plugged in all day the car started instantly but he gave me advice on what to do over the next hour. I followed his directions and so far everything is OK. But I did have to make one inch of milk last from Friday until Monday afternoon.

What I really want to comment on is how badly most people drive. It seems that very few people these days have driven a car without an automatic transmission and power steering and brakes, and it’s safe to say that, as a result, they don’t really know how to drive. There’s more to it than pointing the car in a certain direction and applying the gas. In particular, it ought to be obvious that winter driving bears little resemblance to driving in other seasons.

Evidently this doesn’t sink in. I watched recently as, for four consecutive traffic lights on St. Mary’s Road, the guy beside me jammed on his brakes at the last split-second and slithered halfway into the intersection — fortunately the cross-traffic saw him coming each time.

Unless you’ve driven a standard you probably don’t know that you have to slip into neutral to get the best braking control on your vehicle. Anti-lock brakes don’t help much — all they do is improve control a bit and you still have to increase your stopping distances.

There are lots of other winter-driving tricks — keep your tires in loose snow if you can, start gently braking — in neutral — about five times further away than normal and, above all, be gentle. Jackrabbit starts and heavy braking are dangerous in winter.

I could go on but I think I’ve made my point. I realize that you can’t always keep control but at least do as much as you can to retain it.

Peter Lacey is a community correspondent for St. Vital.

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