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Today's word on journalism

Monday, January 29, 2007

Words as weapons:

"When he had a pen in his hand it was like giving a kid a machine gun."

--Peter Hall, theater director, on "Angry Young Man" playwright John Osborne (1929-1994)

Tips to keep winter driving under control

SLIPPIN' AND SLIDIN': A car slides off the road and into a ditch after the first snow leaves the roads slippery in Bozemon, Mont. / Photo courtesy of Chris Wilson

By Jennifer Lund

December 6, 2006 | With snow covering mountains and valleys, it is once again time for winter driving. This time of year always leaves me a little uneasy on the roadways. In my six years as a driver, I have already slid into a curb twice on slippery roads. The first time was easy to brush of--I was only 16-years-old and it was my first year driving. But the second time was a little more embarrassing.

It was the winter of my sophomore year, and my parents let me borrow their car so I could drive down after class to make it in time for the Clay Aiken Christmas concert. We were all going to go as a family, and the idea of it was hilarious and something I did not want to miss. Just one night before the big day, I decided to drive down the steep hill on 800 North in Logan to get home. Now this was the first mistak--800 North is probably not the best road to be taking in icy conditions. Instantly the car began to slide as I headed down the hill. Clueless of what to do, I sat in my seat and waited for the inevitable. BOOM! I hit the curb. Groveling, I got out of the car to see the damage. Quickly a group of 10 or so people appeared ready to push my car out.

"You're the ninth car that's done that tonight on this street!" one of them informed me.

Needless to say, I learned I had very poor winter driving skills that I needed to improve on. Now, living in Bozeman, Mont., I realize this even more because for some strange reason, they don't plow the roads here. Sure, they'll spend a bazillion dollars on a prime, expensive Main Street location for the library, but plowing the roads-- well, that's a selective process.

The Weather Channel Web site has a very helpful list of winter driving tips from the National Safety Council, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, and Washington State Government Information & Services.

Some very key tips included in their list are: leaving yourself plenty of room to stop; decreasing speed on icy roads; braking gently to avoid skidding; using low gears to keep traction and avoiding or driving very carefully on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads.

If your rear wheels skid, the Web site recommends taking your foot off the accelerator and steering in the direction you would like the front wheels to go. Once you do this, the rear wheels might start sliding the other way. If this happens, slowly turn your steering wheel toward that side.

"You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control," according to the Web site.

In addition, cars that are not equipped with anti-lock brakes should pump their brakes to gain some control. Cars that do have anti-lock brakes should apply steady pressure.

If your front wheels lose control, the Web site recommends not steering immediately. Instead, they recommend taking your foot off the gas and shifting to neutral.

"As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return," the Web site says. "As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in "drive" or release the clutch, and accelerate gently."

Finally, if your car gets stuck in the snow, don't try to spin your wheels to get out. This will only bury the wheels deeper. The Web site recommends: turning the wheels to the sides to push away snow; lightly pushing on the gas to ease the car out; and using dirt or gravel to gain traction under the tires.

It is extremely helpful to practice these tips in a large, empty parking lot before encountering them on the road. By increasing your knowledge of what to do in winter driving conditions, you can increase your confidence as you drive this season. For a full list of winter driving tips , check out The Weather Channel Web site.


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