Screaming Into The Abyss

How to Drive on Snow: Lesson 1
By Ben Zvan
On February 27, 2009 at 09:39
General News

Why I Walk to WorkMarch is historically the snowiest month in Minnesota and it seems like Minnesotans have forgotten, or never learned, how to drive in snow. As a public service, and to keep myself from being frustrated by other drivers and scared as I'm walking to work, I thought I'd provide some really basic information for the masses. This is what I see all the time and it's the reason for all the backups getting out of parking lots and off of side streets.It's also just as valid anywhere else where there's snow, including Florida and the entire southern hemisphere.

Spinning your tires only makes your tires spin.

The basics: If you're sitting at a stop and the road is slippery. Don't give the car enough gas to spin the tires in the snow. If the tires are spinning, let up on the gas and let them grab some snow. If your tires dig out enough snow, they'll only reach ice. Ice is slipperier than snow.

The details: The coefficient of static friction is greater than the coefficient of dynamic friction. Here's a demonstration you can try at home.

You will need:

  • A hard-cover book
  • A ruler
  • A second hard-cover book
  • A small object that won't roll, let's say a deck of cards.
  • Tape
  • A notepad
  • A pencil
Instructions:
  1. Tape the ruler to the spine of the first hard-cover book. Do it gently, so you can remove it later.
  2. Stand the book on end so that the ruler is sticking straight up with zero at the bottom.
  3. Set the other hard-cover book on its back, against the spine of the first so the longest shortest edge touches the ruler
  4. Place the deck of cards on the second book, touching the ruler.
  5. Lift the edge of the book touching the ruler up to make a ramp. When the deck of cards slides down the ramp, make a note of how high the book was touching the ruler.
  6. Put everything back where it was at the end of step 4.
  7. Repeat step 5, only this time keep giving the deck of cards a tiny push while you're raising the book. You may need a friend to do this part for you. Again, when the deck of cards slides down the book, make a note of how high you had raised the top of the ramp.

Congratulations! You just found the difference between the coefficient of static friction (step 5) and the coefficient of dynamic friction (step 7.) The number you wrote down in step 5, when the deck of cards was sitting still (static) should have been bigger than the number you wrote down in step 7, when the deck of cards was already sliding (dynamic.) To put it another way, if the deck of cards was already slipping the ramp didn't have to be as steep for it to keep slipping. That means that if your tires are slipping on snow, the snow doesn't have to be as slippery for them to keep slipping. Therefore, if your tires are slipping, the best way to get more traction from them is to stop them from slipping. You can do this by changing the surface you're driving on (hard) or by slowing down the tires until they stop slipping (easy.)

Get out there and practice this. Once you get good at keeping your tires from starting to slip on snow and ice, you'll be asking why this isn't a requirement for a Minnesota drivers license. I know I do. And when you get good enough, even steep, icy hills will not be a challenge for you.

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