HOUSTON—Let’s face it, most of us drivers are amateurs.
So on the day before a winter storm was forecast to blow through Houston, bringing icy conditions to a city better known as a summertime sweatbox, we decided to consult a professional.
“I’m Kevin Krauss,” said the friendly fellow we met at the Houston Auto Show. “I’m a professional driver and a driving instructor.”
Actually, that’s a modest summary of his resume. He’s not just a professional driver and instructor, he’s a professional racer who teaches lessons to some of the biggest names in race car driving.
We turned to Krauss not to win a checkered flag, but for a basic primer on something many drivers in Houston never had to learn: How to drive in icy weather. More specifically, we asked him for a simple lesson in handling a car skidding on an ice-slicked road.
Of course, the smartest thing you can do with an icy road is stay off it. But if you find yourself swerving out of control on a patch of frozen pavement, Krauss’ first piece of advice is obvious: Keep your cool and don’t panic.
“The biggest thing you can do is to slow things down,” he said, but he quickly pointed out that slamming on your brakes can be catastrophic.
Instead, he advised, just let off the gas pedal.
“Now, if you go to the brake immediately and you do a panic stop right away and try to turn at the same time, typically what happens is you’ve overloaded the tire and it’s not going to turn,” Krauss said “You’re going to typically slide.”
Easing off the gas pedal immediately throws weight toward the front of your car, which helps your front tires grip the road.
“What that’ll do is it’ll actually shift some load to the front tires and push down on the front tires, so you’ve got a little bit more contact patch,” he explained. “You’ve got more tire that’s in contact with the road. So the tires can actually do more work at that point.”
Then, Krauss said, you should steer your car down the road in the direction you were originally driving. Don’t look to the side of the road, don’t stare at the telephone pole you might hit, he said.
“You always want to stay focused on where you want the car to go,” Krauss said, “not where you’re going, but where you want the car to go.”
But again, the simplest advice is also the safest. In icy conditions, stay off the roads.