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Winter driving: What to do, what not to do

CHICAGO _ When a snowstorm hits, drivers struggling to clear smeared or fogged windshields can get dangerously creative.

Illinois State Police Sgt. Jim Jenkner has watched as they've reached out their windows with ice scrapers _ while driving.

"We've seen people throw snow on their windshield," Jenkner said. "The worst case was the kids who used a rope tied across the windshield to manually operate the broken wipers."

That memorable example highlights one of the tips that police, highway officials and other experts often mention when it comes to safe winter driving: Make sure your vehicle and equipment are in good working order.

Here are some tips from the professionals:

_Drive according to road conditions, not the speed limit. When driving is a challenge, slowing down will allow more time to respond.

Drivers should go with the flow in bad weather, Jenkner said. Police will pull over aggressive drivers who cut in and out of traffic, even if they're going below the speed limit, he said.

_Drivers should anticipate difficult situations by looking down the road far enough to identify potential problems. They also should be aware of drivers coming from other lanes and cross streets.

"Across the board, that's the No. 1 mistake people make in driving, period: Not looking far enough ahead," said Mark Cox, director of the Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs, Colo.

_Use the car's gripping ability effectively. When making a turn on slippery roads, brake only before turning. Don't accelerate until straightening the steering wheel after exiting the turn.

_Don't overestimate the capability of four-wheel-drive vehicles. Four-wheel-drive does not improve braking or cornering, experts say.

"A lot of people who drive SUVs have a false sense of confidence," Cox said. "They press the gas and it leaps forward with no problem. But when it comes time to steer or brake, they have no advantage over a two-wheel-drive vehicle, and maybe even a disadvantage because there's more weight to stop and control."

_Keep a smooth, light touch on the brakes for normal braking.

With ABS (anti-lock braking system), press the pedal hard and hold it down. Don't be misled by ABS braking systems. Even with ABS, too much speed going into a corner won't keep a car on the road.

"Ice and snow magnify poor driving technique," Cox said.

_Keep both hands on the wheel at 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock positions.

Avoid hand-over-hand steering. Keep the right hand on the right side of the wheel and the left hand on the left. This technique can help avoid skids.

_Give snowplows some room.

During heavy snowfall, the plows often work in tandem to remove as much ice, slush and snow as possible from all lanes at once.

Snowplows travel about 30 mph, so motorists should expect delays.

When it is safe to pass, the plows spread out and allow traffic to flow around them.

"Driving defensively during wintry conditions is more important than ever," said Kristi Lafleur, executive director of the Illinois Tollway. "We're reminding our customers to keep a safe distance and reduce their speed to match roadway and traffic conditions."

Said Charlie Otto, who has been driving plows for the Illinois Department of Transportation more than 12 years: "The main thing is to try to stay out of our way and let us do our job."

He mentioned distracted drivers, who use cell phones and laptops and even read newspapers in bad weather.

"People are always trying to go around the plows," he said. "Just give us our space."

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