|Photo Courtesy of Lee Shevchik|
It's that season. Rain. Sleet. Snow. Nature's finest precipitation. Milk, bread, and eggs disappear just as quickly as they hit the shelves. (Never understood why French Toast was so popular during these times.) What is it about the weather that scares people so much? Well...simple laws of physics and chemistry that can't be denied. Friction and molecular bonding to be more specific. I lost you didn't I? Let's back it up. The friction between the rubber tires and the pavement causes the car to move forward. Water molecules have a tendency to almost bond to one another which is one of it's cool properties because that allows it to transform into either gas, solid, or liquid.
Back to cars, rain is scary for some because of the possibility of hydroplaning. Hydroplaning is like skipping a rock. At a certain speed, the tires of the car basically float on the surface, losing "friction" or what we call "traction" in the car world. Well, when we apply the brakes, the car takes advantage of friction again between the tires and the pavement to slow the car down. If the car is on the surface of water,...there's not as much friction between water and rubber as there is between pavement and rubber. The loss of friction is no different when it comes to ice. Sleet is like driving on a gravel surface, but can easily turn to ice if the conditions are right, so the ice rule applies with sleet as a precaution. The same with snow.
So if you find yourself in rain, ice, sleet, or snow, here's 4 things to remember to make it manageable.
Now, I know that's easier said than done. You're behind the wheel of the car that's headed straight for the telephone pole. You've found a patch of black ice, and your car is now spinning like a top down the interstate. The best thing to do is to stay as calm as possible. Sudden movements can make the situation worse, so make sure you're thinking clearly. A sudden jerk of the steering wheel could change your direction from heading into a ditch to flipping end over end.
Rain: If the rock you're trying to skip is moving slower, it will sink faster. Same concept with your tires. Slowing down prevents the tires from "floating" and keeps them on the pavement. It's probably good to note here that bald tires "float" better. It's like finding that perfect skipping rock.
Sleet / Snow / Ice: Walking on ice is entirely possible if careful. You wouldn't try to run on ice. Well...at least without knowing there's a really good chance of losing balance and falling. (You do have rubber on the bottom of your tennis shoes.) The nice thing about ice is you will continue to move in the direction you are headed should you hit a patch, so keeping on the road isn't a problem. (This is actually Newton's first law of motion.) It's when heading towards a turn, a red light, or stopped traffic that becomes tricky. Give yourself plenty of room and slow down a lot earlier.
Know Your Surroundings.
Rain / Sleet / Snow / Ice: If you get caught in an unfortunate situation, know where you are compared to your surroundings. Are you driving in a hilly area, is there a ledge, etc... You can then try to steer the vehicle towards a safe area.
Rain / Sleet / Snow / Ice: Tap the brakes. Holding the brake down does nothing for you when you're already sliding. (Unless you have ABS - Anti-lock Braking System. If you're unsure if you have it, read on.) Tapping the brakes gives a "friction, no friction, friction, no friction" and even though the friction is slight, it'll help slow you down with each tap. How quickly depends on a lot of factors: condition of the tires, if the ice is smooth or lumpy, etc... (Newton's third law of motion.) It's a habit to just floor the brake because that works in dry conditions.
The best rule of thumb is to not travel in conditions you aren't comfortable with. However, if you have to or are unexpectedly caught in it, I hope this helps.
Disclaimer: This blog is written as merely a source of understanding and knowledge to serve as a guide should you get into a situation. This by no means is a 100% rule of thumb and to make you feel you can manage any driving condition.
- Bryan Lin | CEO, The Motorsports Authority, Inc. | www.MSAStore.com