April showers bring pretty flowers and dented fenders.
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics,
nearly one million vehicle accidents a year occur in wet weather. Many
of these rainy-day wrecks are caused by motorists failing to appreciate
the vast difference between driving in wet and dry conditions, says
Peter Cunningham, a championship winning race car driver who tours the
U.S. for Firestone, teaching driving skills and discussing the
importance of proper tires.
"To drive safely on wet pavement, you have to recognize the demands that
you, your vehicle and your tires face," Cunningham says. "It's very
different than driving on dry pavement, but many motorists fail to
change techniques and attention. That's when many wet weather accidents
Cunningham's wet weather driving tips include:
Slow down. As your speed decreases, the tire
footprint (the amount of the tire's tread contacting the road
surface) increases, providing better traction. You also reduce the
risk of hydroplaning should you run into deeper water puddled on the
Maintain a safe distance. Even with a good wet
weather tire, be prepared for longer stopping distances on wet
pavement. Since other cars may not have proper tires for wet weather
driving, be extra alert at stop signs and red lights.
Choose tires carefully. Too many drivers buy a tire
based on initial price or appearance. For optimum performance in the
rain, select a tire with tread design and rubber compounds that
provide enhanced wet weather driving capabilities, such as the new
Firestone FT70(c) with its patented UNI-T technologies. One of the
newest and best tires available for wet weather conditions, the
Firestone FT70(c) features the patented Weather Grip Tread Compound
which enhances wet performance and also optimizes wear resistance
for longer tread life. In addition, the tire's patented tread design
combines wide straight grooves and deep rib notches to deliver
impressive rain and snow performance.
Properly maintain your tires. No tire can provide
good wet traction once the tread is worn below 2/32nd's of an inch
tread depth. Check your tires regularly and replace them at the
proper time. Also, maintain the proper air pressure in your tires;
check your vehicle manufacturer handbook or the door jamb for the
proper air pressure for your particular vehicle and tires.
Go smoothly. When braking, accelerating or turning,
avoid jerky, abrupt movements.
Avoid hydroplaning. If you feel your vehicle starting
to hydroplane (riding on the surface of the water), take your foot
off the accelerator -- don't hit your brakes. If you have a manual
transmission, push in the clutch and let the vehicle slow down until
control is regained.
Plan your braking. If you are entering a curve slow
down and brake gently before you start to turn.
Turn on your lights. In most states it's required by
law. In may not help you see, but it will help other drivers see
Check your wipers. Install new wiper blades at least
once a year to ensure good vision.
Cunningham says his tips can be shortened to "T & T."
"Think and Tires," he says. "Think about your driving and install good
tires for wet weather. Once you've installed the tires, keep them
inflated properly and replace them when tread-wear indicator bars show.
Don't be shy about asking information from your tire dealer.
Your safety -- and mine -- could depend on your tires and how you
Bridgestone/Firestone worked with IMSA and SCCA championship winning
race car driver Peter Cunningham (also a three-time national ice driving
champion), to develop these tips for safe winter driving.
During winter months, keep abreast of weather reports
in your area. If snow or ice is predicted, make plans to leave early
or arrive later. An alarm clock set to an earlier time can be a good
friend in helping you avoid difficulties.
If you can move a night trip to daylight hours, do
so. Not only is visibility better, but if your vehicle is stalled,
you are more likely to receive prompt assistance during the daytime.
Prepare your vehicle for winter driving; use this
checklist as a guideline:
wiper blades to make sure they work properly. In some areas,
snow blades are an effective alternative to conventional wiper
Have your mechanic test the anti-freeze/coolant
to provide the correct level of protection required in your
Make sure your tires are properly inflated. Under
inflation can reduce the gripping action of tires because the
tread will not meet the road surface as it was designed to do.
Over inflation has the same effect.
you live in
areas where snow and ice are certainties of winter driving,
don't depend on all-season tires. Instead, install snow tires.
Snow tires are made of softer components and have a unique tread
design that provide better traction and road-gripping abilities.
your gas tank
at least half-full. The extra volume can help reduce moisture
problems within your fuel system. It also adds helpful weight to
rear-wheel drive vehicles, extra weight in the trunk or truck
bed may be helpful. Use care-- unsecured weight can shift while
you are moving or if you have to stop suddenly. Bags of sand can
provide weight and, if sprinkled on the ice, sand helps provide
- Before you
your driveway, scrape the ice and snow from every
window and the exterior rear view mirrors, not just a small patch on
the windshield. Don't forget to remove snow from headlights and
ice and snow from your shoes before getting in your vehicle. As they
melt, they create moisture build-up, causing windows to fog on the
inside. You can reduce this fogging by turning the air recirculation
switch to the OFF position. This brings in drier, fresh air. You can
also run your air conditioner which serves as a dehumidifier for a
- You and your
passengers should all use safety belts, both lap and shoulder
straps. Pull them snug to ensure they work properly.
- Adjust head
rests. Rear-end collisions are common in winter driving and a
properly-adjusted head rest can prevent or reduce neck injuries.
- Before you
shift into gear, plan the best route to your destination. Avoid
hills, high congestion areas and bridges if possible.
- Although your
radio can provide helpful traffic information, it can also be a
distraction for some drivers. Since driving is more a mental skill
than a physical skill, you may want to keep it turned off.
- Don't use a
cellular phone when driving on ice or snow. Even if you have a
hands-free model, you need to concentrate on driving, not on a
- Drive slowly
and remember that posted speed limits identify the maximum speed
allowed when weather conditions are ideal. Law enforcement agencies
can write citations to motorists driving the posted speed limit if
weather conditions warrant a slower speed.
- Be more alert
to the actions of other drivers. Anticipate cars coming from side
streets and put extra distance between your vehicle and the one in
front of you. If someone is too close behind you, don't speed up;
slow down or let them go around you.
- To make sure
other drivers see you, always drive with your lights on. At night,
in fog and heavy snow conditions, low beams may be more effective
than high beams.
- Keep a light
touch on the brakes. Even with anti-lock braking systems (sometimes
called ABS), you should apply light pressure to avoid locking the
brakes and causing a skid. Pumping the brake pedal should be smooth
action, going from light to firm in a gradual move. Tip toe to slow
is a good motto for winter drivers.
- Keep both
hands on the wheel and keep the wheel pointed where you want your
car to go. While it may sound overly simple, it could help you in a
- While manual
transmissions may provide greater control to assist with braking, be
careful when using downshifting as a way to slow the vehicle. Gear
changes, particularly abrupt ones, can upset a vehicle's balance and
cause a skid to occur, especially in turns.
Keep your vehicle stocked with simple emergency equipment
in case you do get stalled or have an accident. Consider keeping these
items in your vehicle:
A blanket or extra clothes
A candle with matches
Snacks, Beverages (never alcohol)
C. B. radio, cellular phone or ham radio
A small shovel
A windshield scraping device
A tow rope
A bag of sand or cat litter for traction
Long jumper cables
If you do have
trouble, run the engine only briefly to run the heater, not
continuously. Carbon monoxide can accumulate more easily in a non-moving
Severe engine damage may also occur if the motor runs for long periods
when the vehicle is not in motion. Warming up a car prior to travel is a
common practice, but most engines really don't need more than a minute
at most to circulate oil to all internal parts. Check your vehicle's
owner's manual for information about your engine.