Four wheel drive (4WD) vehicles are indestructible and so are the people who drive them.
This is the version of reality you get from the TV ads. The companies that manufacture and sell 4WD vehicles want you to believe that their products make winter driving not just a piece of cake but a thrill ride. Get yourself a 4WD vehicle and while everybody else is snowed in or crawling along 15 mph below the speed limit, you'll have a blast tearing up the roads!
These claims are a bunch of bunk. Moreover, they do us all a terrible disservice by infusing the owners of 4WD vehicles with a false sense of confidence that puts themselves, their passengers and their fellow motorists at risk. So, in recognition of National Safe Driving Week (in Canada), I'd like to set the record straight and de-bunk four of the leading myths about 4WD vehicles.
Myth: You can't drive in snow without 4WD.
Truth: 4WD does provide additional traction. But even lighter vehicles not equipped with 4WD have enough weight to create traction in wintery conditions.
Myth: I should ensure that my vehicle's 4WD system is engaged at all times when it's snowy.
Truth: Maybe not. Read your manual. Many 4WD systems are designed for use only when the vehicle is actually stuck. In others, 4WD kicks in automatically when the tires lose traction. Consistent driving with the 4x4 engaged can cause costly repairs.
Myth: With 4WD I don't need to adjust my driving habits when it's slippery out.
Truth: This is probably the most dangerous myth about 4WD. Many people think that 4WD corrects for all sins and makes careful driving unnecessary. These people often end up flipped over or in a ditch. 4WD improves traction. But it doesn't eliminate slips. And because 4WDs tend to be tall and have a high center of gravity, once they begin to slide, they're harder to keep upright.
Myth: If I have 4WD, I don't need snow tires.
Truth: Actually, you do. Four of them. Snow tires on the drive wheels give you acceleration. The front ones help you turn (which is useful). With 4WD and snow tires you also get more control. If you just put two snow tires on, two of your wheels may skid before the other two, causing you to spin out.
I'm not here to tell you that having a 4WD system doesn't improve traction and help avoid traffic accidents. Clearly it does. But what we all need to understand is that like most safety devices, 4WD is only effective as the person operating the machine. So don't believe the TV commercials. A safe driver remains the best precaution against traffic accidents in winter (and throughout the year). So, everybody take it easy on the roads this winter and we'll all stand a better chance of making it through to spring.
5 Winter Driving Tips
1. Clear the Snow
Clear all snow from your car's windows, lights, license plates and roof of your car. Also keep in mind that snow blowing from the roof and hood of your car poses a visibility hazard to the driver behind you.
2. Back Off
Tailgating leads to accidents and could provoke road rage. Exercise patience with the vehicle in front of you. This is good advice at any time. But during winter, it's especially critical. Give people extra lead time when roads are covered with snow, ice, slush and rain. You'll thank yourself when the car ahead suddenly spins out.
3. Know How to Brake
Braking poses special challenges when roads are wet and icy. Don't take the wheel until you know how to brake in these conditions. If you go into a skid, take your foot off the gas, steer into the skid and regain control. If you have to stop right away pump your brakes - don't slam on them. If your vehicle has anti-lock braking systems (ABS), apply steady pressure to the brake pedal.
4. Winterize Your Vehicle
In the old days, we used to change to snow tires for the winter. All-season radials have made this unnecessary in many areas. But there still are things we need to do to prepare our vehicles for the cold and icy climate. Plug in a block heater, add fuel line de-icer to the fuel tank and consider using a battery warmer. Keep your tires properly inflated (check them before you drive) so that you never feel the flat spot of frozen tread as you start off in the morning. Use chains on your tires when conditions warrant.
5. Winterize Yourself
The most important part of the vehicle to winterize is the driver. Winter weather is unpredictable. So be prepared for the unexpected. More specifically, anticipate that you might be stranded and keep these essentials in your car:
- A spare tire, properly inflated;
- A shovel and a bag of sand, salt or cat litter for traction;
- Spare warm clothing and a pair of boots; and
- Blankets, candles and food.
Pallet Jack Question
A SafetyXChange member writes:
"I have looked everywhere on the net to try to answer my question. We have several employees who move pallet jacks by pulling with both arms behind their backs. It looks like this could strain the back much easier than pulling with one arm. Is this safe?"
Is this a safe way to move pallet jacks? Send your advice/comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know if we can use your name/company name.