What to do when your car ‘fishtails’ on slick roads
Hey, all y’all who were barreling down the roads covered in black ice last week while bad-mouthing slow-moving drivers: You are an accident waiting to happen.
Well, Billy Fryer, the director of the Fayette County Attorney’s driver education program, said most adult drivers don’t understand how to control their car, and that’s a problem. Especially when driving in the snow. See, your car is a machine, and to operate a machine, you have to understand the forces that make the car work.
Driving is about physics, said Fryer, who has helped almost 1,300 Lexington youths learn how to drive. When you slam on the brakes, the front goes down, the back goes up, and the car skids.
And speaking of skids: If you drove in Kentucky last week, you saw a car skid, saw evidence of a car skid or skidded yourself.
The first thing people do to endanger themselves when driving in the snow is driving in the reckless way that gets them caught in a skid in the first place.
“If they slow down, they would be less likely to skid, and more likely to get out of it,” Fryer said.
Candy Pettry, an eldercare navigator with UK HealthCare who teaches an AARP driver class for those older than 50, said some older drivers might have been taught the incorrect way to deal with skids.
“When I learned to drive, it didn’t really make sense to me, the ‘steer into it’ idea,” Pettry said. “The thing about skids now, what they say is, ‘Don’t press the brake, don’t press the gas, steer in the direction you want to go.’ People immediately will want to brake.”
In the courses Fryer teaches for young drivers, which include classroom, driving and homework components, students learn to predict how their car will react in various situations.
Putting a foot on the brake causes the car to pitch — meaning the front of the car goes down while the back goes up. Taking your foot off the brake means the car remains level. And when you steer the car into the skid, you’re probably panic-steering.
“There’s a name for that problem, and it’s called oversteer,” Fryer said. “You’ve steered more than you need to.”
When the car is in a skid, you need to do what he calls “targeting.” The target can be any stationary object, such as the center between the yellow and white lines on the road. It’s a quick assessment of where you want to aim the car.
Steer toward the target, Fryer said. When the car stops skidding, immediately proceed steering in the direction you want to go.
That’s a lot to do in a matter of seconds. That’s why Fryer’s class instructs students in a device called a “Skid monster” — a specially outfitted Toyota Camry. It can simulate a skid and give young drivers time to learn to make the right decision without injury to themselves — or others.
Fryer also doesn’t think much of driver licensing standards and what he considers lax standards for the driver licensing road test, which doesn’t judge how students perform over distance, at various speeds, in lane changing or in unpredictable stops in dicey weather — “all of which require decision-making.”
“The worst thing we find out about kids driving is that they pick up bad habits,” he said.
Pettry also has heard lots of horror stories while teaching her AARP driving course: “Having seen a lot of folks come through the health care side of things, it doesn’t always take high impact or a lot of speed to cause a lot of damage.”
Want to take a course?
For younger drivers: Fayette County Attorney’s Office driver education. Reservations begin Feb. 1 for 2018 classes, which are for drivers 20 and younger.
Students must have a driver’s permit and at least 20 hours of on-the-road driving experience. Mandatory reading material and homework as well as driving. Partially funded by individual and corporate sponsors. Fee: $400 for 20 hours classroom/driving instruction. The program was begun in 2011 by Fayette County Attorney Larry Roberts and has taught 1,300 young drivers.
More information is at Fayettecountyattorney.com/driver_education.asp. Or call 859-226-1814.
For older drivers: The AARP Smart Driver Safety Course is offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 17 at the Fayette County Extension Office, 1140 Harry Sykes Way. The classroom course is for drivers 50 and older. The course identifies strategies for drivers as they age. Participants who complete the course will receive a certificate that many car insurance agencies honor with a discount.
The class is $15 for AARP members, $20 for nonmembers. Register by calling 859-257-5582.
Things every Kentucky driver should know:
Call 511 to check road conditions or go to the state Transportation Cabinet’s traffic and roadway information site. Do not call 911 to check road conditions.
“Black ice” is “essentially ice with no air bubbles,” said Candy Pettry, who instructs the AARP driving class. “It makes it really transparent. ... and so it appears the same color as the road surface.” It’s impossible for drivers to detect, and it’s especially dangerous.
Bridges freeze before the road because they are in contact with air from all sides, unlike roads.
A SAFE (Safety Assistance for Freeway Emergencies) patrol operates on interstates and parkways from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., providing gasoline or oil, air for tires and battery jumps. Call 877-367-5982 or go to the Transportation Cabinet website. Most services are free; the motorist is responsible for payment if a tow truck is required.