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Driving in the Conditions With Michigan State Police

We are about a month into the winter driving season with many more months to go but it’s these early months when Michigan State Police say the most accidents happen.

“People haven’t reprogrammed their brains yet to driving on the slippery roads,” said Sgt. Kevin Looney, “It’s going to take a few snowfalls or icy roads to get them back in that mode and remember how we drive in the winter.”

We’ve already seen a little of it all across Northern Michigan, the heavy snows, the icy roads and the melting mess. More snow and ice is sure to come and MSP are reminding drivers how to handle those moments, those incidents where your car has lost control and is starting to slide.

“Our natural reaction is to want to go to the brakes,” said Looney, “You have to fight that urge, we want that rolling friction.”

At the MSP Headquarters in Lansing, the department has a precision driving course complete with a skid pad. Troopers train on how to handle their cars in all weather.

They say there are three main keys, see where you want to go, steer where you want to go and keep your feet off the gas and brakes.

“You don’t want to induce other forces into the car, like if you are mid-skid, you don’t want to jam on the brakes because that will throw the car worse into the skid,” said Tpr. Ed Ricklefs, an instructor at the academy.

At the Precision Driving Center, they have cars equipped to lose all traction control and lock up brakes on command, to force a skid the driver needs to get out of.

They say the best plan is to avoid skidding by taking your time and going slow but if you still get caught, stay calm and focused and steer your way out.

“If the car skids 15 degrees, you want to get ahead of it. You want 16 degrees of steering and you have to unwind it as the car comes back straight,” said Ricklefs, “You have to unwind your steering. If you leave the steering, you will have what’s called a secondary skid.”

Even in a controlled environment, with a person telling you exactly what to do, it isn’t easy. It will be even more nerve wracking on the road in the elements. 

It all comes with experience and practice. as the season goes on, Michigan drivers get more practice and crash numbers drop. It’s something we all know here in Northern Michigan and that life experience shows at the academy.

“You take somebody from the UP, they’re usually very good at skid control,” said Looney, “You take a recruit from out of state, maybe a warm weather state, that doesn’t have much experience, it does take them a little bit longer.”