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From the newsletter

Driving on Ice: To Pump or Not to Pump?

December 7, 2009

It’s that time of year again, and winter weather is right around the corner. You’ve dug the snow brush out of your trunk and put new tires on your vehicle, but have you brushed up on your winter driving practices? Specifically, driving on ice? With your car, should you pump or not pump your brakes?

If you’re confused, you’re not alone. A recent Highway Loss Data Institute study found that many motorists do not know how to use antilock brakes effectively. More than 50 percent of people in North Carolina and 40 percent in Wisconsin incorrectly thought they should pump their brakes if their vehicle had antilock brakes.

No pump
If your vehicle is equipped with an antilock braking system (ABS), you do not need to pump your brakes when driving on slippery roads. Why? The brakes do it for you. They automatically pulsate anytime the system detects a wheel skidding.

Seventy-two percent of new vehicles sold today are made with an ABS, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Your owner’s manual will provide information about what types of brakes your vehicle has. An ABS light on your dashboard is also an easy indicator of whether or not you have antilock brakes.

Yes pump
If your vehicle does not have antilock brakes, then the method of manually pumping can help maintain control on slippery roads. Gently apply and release pressure at a moderate rate. Do not apply quick or steady pressure, as this can cause your wheels to lock and your car to skid.

The main principle behind an ABS is that rotating wheels provide more control than those that are skidding. Understanding your vehicle and knowing whether or not it has an ABS, though, is half the battle.

Tires, too.
According to the Insurance Information Institute 2,043 — 4.1 percent — of all fatal crashes in 2008 were caused by swerving due a slippery surface or other weather-related conditions. Some of these accidents could have been avoided if the vehicles had proper tires. Visit Tire Rack to find the best wintry-weather tires for your car based on its year, make and model.

Studded or spiked tires are another option for driving on icy roads. But if you’re interested in these, check with your local Department of Transportation first for rules and regulations on these aggressive snow tires. They may not be legal in your area.