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Drivers Need Care for Worst of Both Seasons

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2001 – April flowers mean driving in spring showers -- and fog -- and maybe winter ice and snow in some areas of the country. Drivers are in a cusp offering the worst road conditions of both seasons.

Fortunately, rules are rules, and the first for safe driving in any kind of bad weather is to ask whether your trip is really necessary, said Justin McNaull, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic in Fairfax, Va. He offered a battery of other safety tips when staying home isn't an option:

o Slow down and buckle up.

o Have your car checked and keep it in working order. Pay special attention to your engine, brakes and windshield washer and wipers. Check your tires regularly for tread wear and proper inflation.

o See and be seen. Turn on your headlights in bad weather. It's the smart thing to do -- and it's becoming the law in more and more states. Lights on is especially helpful if you drive gray- or silver-colored vehicles, which are hard to see in fog and cloudbursts.

o If you can't see, you probably can't be seen. If you wait out a cloudburst or other bad weather, use a rest stop, parking lot or other protected area. If you can't do that, pull over as far to the right as possible and keep your headlights and emergency flashers on.

o Always mind road conditions. Roadways may appear clear, but glare ice and ice layers under snow can impair braking and steering. Rain can turn pavement slippery, especially at its onset. Fog patches and heavy showers can hide stopped vehicles and road hazards ahead.

o Allow eight- to 12-second intervals between you and the vehicle in front in snow and ice; less may be OK in other bad weather. Start counting off seconds when the car in front of you passes a fixed landmark on the road. You're always too close if you reach the landmark in less than a two-count. You may be comfortable, but the other guy might not be.

o If your vehicle skids, try not to panic. Ease off the accelerator. If driving a manual transmission vehicle, leave the car in gear and let the engine help slow you.

Forget what dad said about pumping your brakes rhythmically in a skid. If your vehicle has anti-lock brakes, apply and hold firm pressure. If you have regular brakes, use "threshold braking" by applying them firmly and backing off only when you feel them begin to lock.

Steer into the skid. If the rear of your vehicle is coming around on the left, steer left. If from the right, steer right. Once control returns, apply gas gently and resume course.

o Higher vehicle speeds and standing water of any depth on the road can lead to hydroplaning. That is, your tires literally rise off the road and ride like skates on ice. Your best defense is to slow down and avoid the problem. Your only defense after it's too late is to regain control by easing off the gas.

o Make sure your spare tire and jack are serviceable and in the trunk along with an emergency road kit of tools and accessories such as warning flares or reflective triangles, jumper cables, a flashlight and spare batteries. If you're in an area still prone to wintry conditions, include a small snow shovel, snow brush, ice scraper, a blanket for warmth, and a bag of cat litter to spread for tire traction. Cell phones are handy.

o Keep the gas tank full and consider stashing some snacks and drinks, too. You might need to run your engine for heat and power and to eat and keep your spirits up should you be stranded -- or stopped in traffic for hours because someone caused an accident up ahead.

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