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You & Your Car

Those make or brake moments on winter roads Add to ...

The other day I was approaching a stop sign while driving my car, which is equipped with four good two-year-old snow tires. I applied the brakes and right away the ABS system kicked in. Well, I went right past the stop sign and into the intersection (ice, I believe).

It was a good thing no one else was around; however, it was a little scary. For the next few stop signs, I tried experimenting with different ways to slow down and stop. For example, gearing down quickly, pressing hard on the brake pedal and using the ABS and finally minimal pressure on the brakes to avoid ABS. Of course, driving slower and starting to brake earlier was the best solution.

However, in an emergency, what is the best/quickest way to stop on snow or ice, using (or not using) all the equipment available to me in my car (excluding sticking my foot out the door and dragging it to slow me down)? - Don in Toronto

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There are times when sticking your foot out the door appears to be a good idea - but I can't think of one, other than to step out and find a washroom after a close call! Seriously, I recommend using the equipment the vehicle provides.

The ability to stop, or steer or accelerate for that matter is entirely dependent on the grip provided by the four contact patches, about the size of the palm of your hand, where the tires touch the road.

Without ABS, the immediate result when stomping on the brake is that at least one of those four patches will have no traction and the brakes on that wheel and the other three will lock up and, with all four tires locked, you have no control and stopping distances are greatly increased, unless you are in very deep snow which can pile up in front of the wheels to help slow it down.

ABS works by detecting the pending lockup of that single wheel and releasing sufficient pressure to allow the wheel to continue to rotate. By monitoring and braking each wheel individually, it assures all continue to rotate, even with maximum pedal applied to the brake pedal. The pulsing sound you may hear is that pressure being alternately applied and released to one or more wheels.

Because the wheel and tire are moving, the tread can provide some grip and you can continue to steer even during an emergency stop. Purists in the driver training community teach and suggest "threshold braking" by which you constantly practice the art of applying and releasing pressure on the brake at the point of lockup. In demonstrations, this can on occasion result in a shorter stopping distance.

Although I have taught the method, I do not recommend it for one simple reason - in an emergency, any driver will instinctively jump on the brakes. A seasoned professional paying 100 per cent attention to the driving task under controlled conditions might then release some pressure and start threshold braking - but even the pros, caught unaware, will jam on the brakes in that initial second.

Also, the most recent versions of ABS are so much more advanced than earlier versions that they are even more adept at braking.

ABS does not always result in shorter stopping distances, but it does enable the driver to steer away from or around a situation. In the scenario you experienced - work your eyes, watch for traffic and look for a snow bank or escape route and steer into it while braking heavily.

The biggest trick or problem in such situations is to pry your eyes from the path you are taking and look for an alternate. In the driver training field, we often say that "if you stare at something long enough, you will hit it."

Jam on the brake pedal leaving your thought processes and eyes free to find a solution to avoiding a crash.

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