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FIRM OFFERS 'SURPRISING' ADVICE ON WINTER DRIVING

There is no more helpless feeling than being in a car sliding sideways across an ice-slicked highway while a guard rail, or worse yet, an 18-wheeler, quickly grows closer.

Screaming, no matter how loudly, does not help.

Taking your foot off the gas pedal and not jamming on the brakes while continuing to steer in the direction you want to go can help, however, winter driving experts said Tuesday.

"The important thing is not to panic," said driving instructor Mark Cox.

And you can learn not to panic by practicing skidding and recovering in an icy parking lot or by attending a driving school, said Cox, director of the Bridgestone Tire Co.'s winter driving school.

Of course, the best thing is to not go into the skid in the first place and Bridgestone representatives had some advice on that, too.

And (surprise!) the advice involves tires and the fact that equipping a car with snow tires makes it handle a whole lot better on ice or snow.

Two cars, identical except one was equipped with Bridgestone Blizzak snow tires, were on the ice at Holiday Twin Rinks so that reporters could see the difference for themselves.

The snow-tire equipped cars, whether driven by professionals or media types, performed far better on starting, stopping and handling tests.

While the demonstration was to promote Bridgestone tires, any snow tire is far superior to conventional all-season tires, Cox said.

The introduction of all-season tires has caused many motorists to stop using snow tires but the difference -- especially with new models of tires -- is significant, explained Cox as he "raced" another driver around the rink.

The old days of putting just two snow tires on a vehicle are gone and having just two could be worse than none because the handling characteristics of a car change with different tires on the front and back, Cox said.

The most common winter driving mistake is speed too fast for conditions, snow tires or not, he said.

Four-wheel-drive vehicles are great -- for getting themselves out of ditches after drivers with a false sense of security have put them there, Cox said.

"They help accelerating or to get through deep snow, but when it comes to braking or cornering, a four-wheel drive vehicle is no better than the same two-wheel-drive vehicle would be," Cox said.

And owners of cars with anti-lock brakes would be doing themselves a favor by reading the manual and finding out how they work and how to use them properly, Cox advised.

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