Having won the Open Class rally championship in Western Canada on two occasions, I have used that experience to put on occasional safe winter driving courses. I am not sure my schedule allows me too this year, however, if your group or organisation can benefit from a 90 minute classroom session, I invite you to contact me, firstname.lastname@example.org and I will see what I can do.
The plain truth, in terms of rallying is that winter conditions are some of the fastest conditions we drive in. Usually because the surface we drive on is so consistent. It sounds strange I know, but with the right driving style and tire choice, snow and ice can be a surface that you can drive extremely fast on.
Accidents are caused by only a few circumstances, some of which are very subtle. In the right conditions simply lifting your foot abruptly off the throttle can send your car in to a spin. Who would have thought? Rally drivers, including myself will use this technique on gravel and snow to “unsettle” the car before a corner. We can lift the throttle abruptly, change the direction of the car and initiate a slide that is beneficial to us. If you are not aware of the weight transfer that can happen or the resistance that lifting the throttle can create on a slick surface, you should be!
So here are a few tips that may help you keep rubber side down this year.
- Practice driving on loose surfaces. This year, the Big White Winter Rally (www.bigwhiterally.com) which is happening in early December may present an opportunity for you to enter their “snow cross”. Grab a helmet, take your daily driver up there and push yourself on a closed course. It is very safe and you will be the only car on the course. The worst thing that could happen is you may get stuck in a snow bank and need a tow out… you will have learned something!
- Concentrate. Rally drivers will routinely drive at 200kph on surfaces that make you “pucker up”. So what is the difference. They concentrate. Most people I see driving today are on their phones, drinking their coffee or checking their make up in the mirror as they slide off unnecessarily into a ditch! Pay attention. After a fast winter stage that is 8kms long I will be soaked with sweat because of the concentration and effort. When we are driving 4,000lb vehicles on the road I am absolutely shocked at the lack of attention to driving. Driving is serious business.
- Be aware of the surroundings. If the wind is blowing left to right on a highway and you pass a truck, expect the impacts of the wind after you come out of the wind shadow beside the truck. It is often enough to send you in to a big slide if the wind is strong enough.
- Be a passive driver. Use the throttle and brakes gently and don’t use cruise control. Sure I know your truck sounds cool, but hitting the gas hard is not going to prove anything other than how expensive it is to fix the pretty truck you are still paying for. Don’t change lanes aggressively and develop some “spider senses”. Particularly in a diesel truck you have so much torque that the automatic gearbox change can set the back wheels spinning.
- Slightly contradictory to the above, when you need to use the brakes (If an accident is imminent), step on them hard if you have anti lock brakes. There are very few vehicles without anti lock brakes today. The problem is that if you are my age or older you don’t trust them. We learned to “threshold brake” or “cadence brake” which is what we use in race cars, THAT DOESN’T WORK WITH ANTI LOCK BRAKES! They do the job for you, you just press hard and when the brake pedal vibrates, they are doing their job, brake and steer! If you don;t have anti lock brakes, you will need to learn the techniques for threshold braking – go look it up on Youtube!
- Please, get the right tires. Go see Big O Tires in Westbank. They have sponsored my rally team for years and know as much about tire technology as anyone. You don’t need studs, just good winter tires. The difference in control you will have is massive. Don’t cheap out on the only part of the vehicle that is going to stop you in the winter… your tires!
- The final piece of advice. Four wheel drive will not stop you going off the road, it won’t stop you sliding when you loose traction. It will help you get up the hill! Whether you have all wheel drive, front wheel drive or rear wheel drive, with the right knowledge and equipment you can drive safely on BC roads this winter,
For a country that spends a lot of time in the winter with snow and ice conditions we should not see so many bad drivers in the ditch, but it is guaranteed, every time the snow first flies. We seem to forget that we live in Canada!