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Earth Sense: Cope with slippage by steering, accelerating gently
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So far, March has shown above-average precipitation totals in North Georgia. Based on the historic record, we also have plenty of rain showers to look forward to in April.

Mostly we’ll need to watch out for the hazards associated with driving in the rain and on mud. Flash flooding is another factor that comes up regularly.

Cars have become safer in the past decades, for sure. In the 1970s, we were still getting around in huge vehicles like the Pontiac Catalina or Plymouth Fury, rolling on bias-ply tires with very limited grip on the roadway. A soft suspension, making the car sway, didn’t help either on slick surfaces.

Now we have precise steering, radial tires and firm, responsive shock absorbers. But the roads are as slippery as ever when wet.

The first rule that needs to be followed is to never drive into a flooded street. What looks like just a couple inches of water could have an 8-foot deep sinkhole waiting along the way. Florida residents have plenty of stories to tell about that.

When the road is just wet, it can be driven on, but one needs to maintain a good feel of how the car is responding. This requires both hands on the wheel, without a cellphone.

If you feel the car slipping, don’t instinctively step on the brakes. Traffic permitting, gradually step off the accelerator and hold the steering wheel steady.

All driving actions in rainy conditions should have the word “gentle” attached. Accelerate gently to permit the tires to grip the wet surface. Steer gently.

Many rural roads, with their rises and dips, can surprise a driver with a large puddle of water. Easing off the gas pedal and holding the steering wheel firmly can prevent the sudden sideways jolt the car will want to make.

We also have plenty of places where you can find yourself driving on Georgia clay. It turns into a mud that’s as slippery as ice when it’s saturated with water. If the tires spin, step off the gas. Then try to get through with a minimum of input on the pedal.

In very serious slippage cases, I’ve freed the car up by letting half the air out of the tires (this works in snow, too), and very gently rocking the car back and forth with the accelerator until the wheels gripped properly again.

 Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University.

 

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