Sliding their way to better driving habits

NMU offers winter driving course

Jon Kovar of NMU Public Safety demonstrates driving tips for winter weather safety. He and Ken Love, also of NMU Public Safety, taught Northern Michigan University students during the “Winter Driving Experience” course held Wednesday and Thursday near the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — Northern Michigan University students who are new to the area and not used to driving in the unique Upper Peninsula winter conditions had a chance to pick up some pointers during the “Winter Driving Experience” at NMU.

The free course was offered for the first time to NMU students by NMU Public Safety on Wednesday and Thursday in a parking lot by the Superior Dome in Marquette.

The timing was good, considering the heavy snow that hit the area on Friday.

Students had the opportunity to drive an older patrol vehicle and experience — and correct — the most common causes of winter driving conditions.

Hosting the course were Jon Kovar and Ken Love of NMU Public Safety.

“We’ve got a winter driving course set up just to familiarize some different people with things that they can expect to encounter on some Upper Peninsula roadways,” Kovar said.

They taught basics like:

≤ when to apply the brakes;

≤ when not to apply the brakes;

≤ how to use the brakes and steering to avoid obstacles; and

≤ determining the best time to let off the brakes and accelerate through a corner as opposed to braking before a corner.

“Things that some people might not have experience with, especially if they’re not from the area, or people who are from the area and just want a refresher and to give it a try,” Kovar said.

The course set up near the Superior Dome allowed participants to try different driving maneuvers.

However, they learned at least one driving tip for being inside the vehicle: how to grip the steering wheel.

“We teach a 9-and-3 with the hands,” Kovar said.

The idea is to avoid the hand-over-hand technique.

“If I were to get into an accident and I had my hand on the wheel like this, that airbag’s going to push my hand,” Kovar said.

The typical 10-and-2 is OK for normal driving, he pointed out, but 9-and-3 is better for defensive driving conditions.

Kovar also addressed ABS, or the anti-lock braking system.

“The way it works is it pulsates the tires for you,” Kovar said. “So when I hit the brakes here, you’re going to feel it in your tires. You don’t have to pump the brakes anymore. With any modern vehicle, it allows you to just push your foot on the brake and leave it there.”

What a lot of people don’t realize is that when a driver locks up the brakes, it prohibits the driver from successfully steering the vehicle, he said.

Kovar then demonstrated that concept on the course.

However, there still is some challenge involved in the maneuver.

“It’s easier said than done sometimes because you panic,” Kovar said.

Another common occurrence on winter roads is skidding. Kovar’s suggestion? Steer into it.

“Let’s say the back end of the car is sliding right,” Kovar said. “You want to look right and steer right. You want to steer the direction the back end of the car is going. Now, you have to be careful because it’s really easy to overcorrect that.”

Again, the brakes shouldn’t be pushed into the floor, he said.

He had another recommendation.

“It’s important to maintain that hand-eye coordination,” Kovar said. “If you’re looking somewhere, you want to be steering there.”

He also stressed that not all cars are going to “behave” the same way.

Of course, weather conditions have to be taken into consideration, and that means adjusting speed to account for things like snow and ice.

“It’s better to get there late than not at all,” Kovar said.

Love agreed.

“The important thing is: Drive according to conditions,” Love said. “Slow down when it’s nasty out. It’s better to be going slower than faster. You can adjust quicker.”

Keeping the proper distance between vehicles also is crucial, he said, as is avoiding being distracted by music, for example.

“It’s important to stay away from that,” Love said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is