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How to drive in the ice and snow: Cold, hard facts (Q&A)

How to drive in ice and snow

Practicing safe-driving skills is more important during winter than any other time of the year. For the last two decades, winter storms accounted for some of the costliest natural disasters by insurance claims, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Not driving safely can smack you in the pocketbook if you cause an accident due to unsafe driving.

Mark Cox is director of the Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. His company has been teaching winter-driving skills to more than 83,000 people for more than 30 years.

insuranceQuotes asked Cox how drivers can successfully navigate the challenges winter driving brings.

Q. Are there any temperature conditions that are especially tough for driving in winter?

A. The worst temperatures are when it's a couple of degrees below or above freezing. There's water on the ice and snow surface, which acts as a lubricant to make the contact between your tire and road more slippery.

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The first snowfall can also be a hazardous time. Driving is a sport, and like any sport, if you're out of practice, you get rusty. The same is true with driving in the winter. Often you haven't driven in these conditions for six to eight months. It's an especially good time to put down the phone and turn off the radio and say to yourself, "I need to get back in the groove, get the feel for driving in snow and focus on improving my driving."

Q. What's one thing a driver can do to navigate safely in winter conditions?

A. Identify problems before they occur. Be an active, not passive, driver. The most important thing is to look far down the road, through your front windshield and also your side views. You want to … see if there are any problems coming up, like a stopped car or a deer.

Q. How do I drive safely if I'm driving in a blizzard whiteout?

Don't panic. Don't yank the steering wheel or slam on the brakes. Turn your lights on. Slow down gradually in case there's a car behind you. Put your foot on the brake not so much to slow down the car, but so your brake lights come on and you're more visible to other drivers. You want to be visible.

A. If you're forced to pull off to the side of the road, leave your flashers and your seat belt on. You don't want to take it off and have someone hit you. Especially in a high-risk situation like this, use all the safety equipment available.

Q. Are there any myths about winter driving?

A. Probably the biggest one is the advice to underinflate your tires. The thinking is that because the tires are softer and more compliant, they'll grip the road better. But that's incorrect. You'll get the best performance from any tire -- winter, summer radial or all-weather -- if you follow the vehicle manufacturer's specifications located inside the door frame. 

For every 10-degree drop in temperature, you lose 1 pound per square inch (psi) of inflation. So if you put on your tires in July when it's 80 degrees, and now it's winter and it's 20 degrees, your tires are underinflated by 6 pounds per square inch. They will not only perform poorly, but it's dangerous. During the winter, check your tire pressure once a month to make sure they're inflated to a safe pressure.

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