We all know what slush is – that sloppy mixture of snow, ice crystals, water, dirt and often salt or some other de-icing agent that combine to make an absolute mess of our roads. But do we know how to deal with it as drivers, especially when it builds up between wheel tracks, or between driving lanes, creating a barrier against lane changes?
Those buildups can create some of the most dangerous winter driving conditions we encounter in Canada. Here are some things it’s helpful to know when driving in such conditions.
The challenges of driving in slush
There are two issues to consider when driving in slush:
- Slush typically has the friction characteristics of wet ice, which means tires have very limited traction for accelerating braking or turning.
- Because it tends to build up in mounds beside the wheel-tracks, it acts as an obstruction against the sides of the tires when turning, as well as creating a slippery surface for the tire treads.
It's that side-force that often catches drivers out, especially when changing lanes with slush banks between them. When turning too sharply into the built-up slush, it provides a sudden and significant resistance – like applying the brakes on just the front wheels.
Given that there is limited traction at the rear wheels, applying a braking force at the front wheels only, while the vehicle is already beginning to turn, tends to keep it turning – into a spin!.
Typically, a driver's first reaction in those circumstances is to lift off on the accelerator, which has the effect of applying an additional engine braking force on the front wheels of front-wheel-drive vehicles. That effect just amplifies the problem, often resulting in a spin-out.
Tips for avoiding a spin-out
- Don't change lanes through slush rows unless you absolutely have to.
- Plan your lane change in advance and choose a spot where the slush is the least.
- Turn the steering wheel slowly and gradually so you approach the slush at a shallow angle. Doing so helps minimize the force against the side of the tires.
- Keep a loose but firm grip on the steering wheel so it won't jerk away when the tires hit the slush and keep steering in the direction you want to go. That point is key!
- Maintain a steady pressure on the accelerator pedal to keep from applying either a braking or accelerating force at the tires. Once the lane change is complete, bring the steering wheel slowly and smoothly back to straight ahead.
That’s the technique to master if you absolutely have to change lanes in slushy conditions. Smooth and steady is the key to doing so safely!