‘Most people don’t realize they are driving too fast until it’s too late,’ lead instructor says
When Mike Whelan sees the first serious snowflakes of the year or the slick, wet pavement associated with winter storms, he thinks about the new drivers that have recently gone through his College of Southern Maryland (CSM) driver education course.
Whelan, the driver education manager and lead instructor at CSM, knows that when there is snow or ice on the roads, the new drivers will be facing an unfamiliar driving experience. Although as students these new drivers have learned from Whelan and the other CSM instructors how to deal with adverse road conditions in class, Whelan said, “You can't learn to drive in snow in the classroom. It's something you have to experience."
“Drive in it,” he said. “But drive in it in a controlled environment.” Whelan suggested that on a day when there is snow on the ground, parents take their new drivers to a large, empty parking lot where there is a safe place to test snowy pavement, feel what it is like to deal with a skid or just experience how easily they can lose friction on an icy patch. “I think it's important that you know how to drive in every condition. And if you don't, stay home – Most people don't realize they are driving too fast until it's too late. And this is not just teenagers,” he said.
Poor weather conditions are a factor in approximately 22 percent of all vehicle crashes in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration.
Whelan is all too familiar with these kinds of statistics. He has been working as a CSM driver's education instructor for more than 13 years. He has logged more than 3,400 hours with students in the car and taught more than 210 courses. He started when his own son was ready to learn to drive and Whelan wanted to make sure he was taught properly. “The more I did it, the more I became passionate about it,” he said, especially about people taking safe driving seriously and about making sure his students are prepared.
“Why do people crash? It's because they are driving too fast for the conditions,” he said.
The college offers a one-day class, Drive2Survive, to help drivers of any age and level learn how to drive in adverse weather and how to better avoid a collision in any circumstance. In March, the college will offer this advanced safety and collision avoidance training taught by certified police driving instructors. As part of that training, instructors take participants to a parking lot, “oil it down,” Whelan said, and give the participants experience in dealing with a skid, much like the idea of parents going to a snowy parking lot and letting their new driver get some safe experience.
CSM is one of the largest driving instruction programs in the state. A new required curriculum for driver education was recently implemented in Maryland and, as of Jan. 1, 2017, is now mandatory for all driving schools. Whelan is one of only 12 state-certified instructor trainers for the new curriculum, giving CSM a leadership role in ensuring that Maryland drivers are well-trained and safe on the road.
For information about CSM's driver education program, see http://www.csmd.edu/programs-courses/non-credit/personal-enrichment/driver-education/ or call 301-934-7870.
College of Southern Maryland Driver Education Manager Mike Whelan offers the following winter weather driving advice:
Five Things Before You Head Out
1. Never allow your fuel tank to go below one-quarter of a tank. If you are stranded, or stuck in traffic or snow, you can keep the engine running to keep warm.
2. When starting your car in your garage, always open the garage door first. After starting your vehicle, move it outside. Carbon monoxide is a deadly gas.
3. It is illegal in Maryland to leave an unattended vehicle with the motor running. Therefore, you cannot allow your car to warm up in your driveway unless you are in it. Also your car can be stolen as a result of leaving it unattended.
4. Always clear snow/ice off the ENTIRE vehicle before driving. Snow and ice on vehicles can become airborne at higher speeds, potentially striking vehicles behind and causing broken windshields and car crashes.
5. Top off your windshield wiper fluid and keep extra fluid in the trunk. Wiper fluid can unfreeze doors and door locks that have become frozen due to rain.
Seven Tips for Driving in Snow or Ice
1. If you are stuck in the snow, don't spin your wheels as this will only melt the snow and turn the snow to ice. Use the lowest gear possible and apply the accelerator gently. If the wheels begin spinning, release the accelerator and try again when the wheels stop. If unsuccessful, call for help.
2. When attempting to stop on ice, the first reaction is to slam on the brakes. Your car will not stop on ice. The best method for avoiding a crash when driving on ice is to lift your foot from the accelerator, don't brake and steer around the problem.
3. If your car begins to slide sideways such as “fish tailing,” always steer in the direction the car is sliding. For instance if your car is sliding to the right, turn your wheels to the right, (direction of the skid). Do not brake or accelerate. The car will begin to straighten. Most importantly look where you want the car to go. Do not look at what you are trying to avoid.
4. Driving too fast is the No. 1 reason for loss of control and car crashes. Always drive at a reduced speed when driving in adverse conditions such as rain, fog and especially snow. Reduced speed gives a driver more time to respond to dangerous events.
5. Most importantly, allow plenty of space between you and other vehicles, especially when following another vehicle. Rear-end crashes are the result of driving too close ahead. On the highway you should allow at least four seconds. When driving in rain add a couple of extra seconds to your following distance and slow down. Hydroplaning can happen at speeds as low as 35 mph. When driving in snow reduce your speed and triple your following distance. Avoid driving around snow plows. It is dangerous and most of the time the driver cannot see you.
6. Stay in the tire tracks of the cars in front of you and avoid changing lanes with heavy snow on the roads. It can cause loss of control.
7. Always “test” the road by accelerating to about 10 mph and then slam on the brakes to see how your vehicle will react to the road surface. If your anti-lock brakes engage then you know the road is slippery. You can then adjust your speed to conditions based on the way your vehicle responds.
Eight Things to Keep in Your Car during the Winter Months
1. Always carry a bag of kitty litter or sand in your car. If you get stuck, you can use it to put under the tires for traction.
2. Always carry water, snacks and a blanket just in case you are stuck in the snow or traffic.
3. Windshield washer fluid for your windshield and doors/locks.
4. Broom and window ice scraper/brush to clean off your car.
5. Snow shovel-to dig your car out if it becomes stuck.
6. Tow strap or tow rope in case you are stuck in the snow and need someone to pull you out.
7. Jumper cables for dead batteries.
8. And last, but not least, patience.