CSM Lead Drivers Education Coordinator/Instructor Mike Whelan shows off one of CSMs drivers education vehicles and some essential winter driving items to keep in your car during winter months. (Submitted photo)
LA PLATA, Md. (December 16, 2010) In 2010, College of Southern Maryland instructors have led more than 8,000 drivers education students through virtually every roadway scenario during classroom and behind-the-wheel sessions. But, according to CSM Lead Drivers Education Coordinator/Instructor Mike Whelan, they have no simulation for snow, sleet, ice, high wind, downpours or fog.
Some students who did their behind-the-wheel training last winter, did get hands-on experience maneuvering in snow and ice, but that is rare, Whelan said. Instead most new drivers are concentrating on merging and changing lanes and then they get hit with limited visibility and the uncertainty of how a car will handle on slick surfaces or measurable snowfall.
There is no substitute for experience, said Whelan, who has spent more than 2,800 hours training students behind-the-wheel since 2003. Until you know how your car will behave, take it slow and leave extra space between your car and the car in front of you. Having parents practice with the new driver in a snow-covered parking lot can be valuable, he said, and in doing so, safety is always first and foremost.
Whelan reminds of the need to be courteous as drivers prepare to share the road in winter weather. Have you followed a mini-van or tractor trailer when suddenly the six-inch layer of snow on the vehicles roof flew off and into your path? Or seen someone driving who cannot see because the driver failed to clean the windshield completely? Or watched as a driver was following too close for conditions, he said.
Knowing what to have in your car for winter weather emergencies, what to do before you head out and how to drive in winter weather are key to making it through the blustery months ahead, said Whelan. Here are his top dos, donts and must-haves:
5 Things BEFORE You Head Out:
1. Never allow your fuel tank to go below a quarter of a tank. If you are stranded, or stuck in traffic or snow, you can keep the engine running to stay 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. In Maryland it is illegal to leave a car unattended while it is running, so drivers should stay with their cars if they are warming them in their driveway, which also will reduce the risk of auto theft.
4. Always clear snow/ice off the entire vehicle. Sweep the entire vehicle of snow before driving. Snow and ice on vehicles can become airborne at higher speeds potentially striking vehicles behind 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.
6 Tips for Driving in Snow or Ice:
1. If you are stuck in the snow, dont 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, dont break, and steer around the problem.
3. If you 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 break 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 number-one 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 to the car in front. 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 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. Have windshield washer fluid for your windshield and doors/locks.
4. Include a broom and a window ice scraper/brush to clean off your car.
5. Carry a snow shovel to dig your car out if it becomes stuck.
6. Tow strap or tow rope can be used if you are stuck in the snow and need someone to pull you out.
7. Always have jumper cables to use for dead batteries.
For information on CSM driver's education classes, visit