The car industry has made quite a few advancements in the last 58 years. Snow tires, four-wheel drive and anti-lock brakes have made it safer to drive in snow and ice. But Anchorage driving instructor Leslie Hysom says winter driving techniques haven't changed much.
We showed Hysom a 1957 public-service video on winter driving and asked her to rate how well the techniques drivers learned decades ago hold up today. The video, "How to Drive on Snow and Ice," was sponsored by the Seiberling Rubber Company in an effort to improve highway safety. The setting: a high school's driver's education class in snowy Burlington, Vermont.
"It's actually a pretty good video, but there are some major changes." Hysom said.
The video begins at a ski jump, where (in a typical 1950s broadcaster voice) the narrator explains the joys and hazards of winter.
"Winter means skiing. Winter means fun. But the same snow and ice that makes for fun in winter sports make for a hazardous time for motorists," the narrator says.
The video first explains how to get your car ready for winter. Check the antifreeze and the oil, wipe the headlights and knock off any snow and ice that's built up in your wheel well, which can cause trouble steering.
"If you're driving in wet, sticky snow, tomorrow morning that's going to be a solid block of ice," Hysom said.
Hysom also had some additional suggestions for items every Alaska driver should keep in the car: jumper cables, a shovel, a flashlight, extra batteries for the flashlight, a shovel, a coat, boots and some kitty litter or sand bags.
"You really need to prepare, especially living in Alaska," Hysom said. "You don't walk out in T-shirts and flip-flops. Some kids I see will show up in shorts and flip-flops. Where is your coat? What happens if you get a flat tire?"
The video then explains how to put on tire chains, which Anchorage Police Department spokeswoman Renee Oistad says are legal, despite the fact that they're practically unseen in city, except on school buses or other big rigs.
Another big change, Hysom said, is stopping distance on snow and ice. The video says it takes 200 feet to stop on snow or ice, but Hysom said the modern rule of thumb is four seconds. When the vehicle ahead of you passes a checkpoint, like a sign, start counting to four. When you reach the same checkpoint, stop counting. If it takes four or more seconds, you're following at a reasonable distance.
Hysom added that if you skid while trying to stop, you shouldn't pump your brake pedal if you have anti-lock brakes, also known as ABS. Instead, apply light pressure to the brake pedal. It is still possible to lock your brakes, but try to avoid it. Once your brakes have locked, you've lost control of steering, Hysom said.
Hysom, who works for Anchorage Driver Training LLC, has been teaching driver's ed (including winter driving classes) for more than 20 years. No matter how far the industry has come, drivers still need to use their heads, she said.
"New cars don't make up for a lack of common sense," Hysom said. "If it is super icy, stay off the roads. You might be late to work, but most people are going to be late anyway because of car wrecks."
Alaska Dispatch Publishing