Trying to put your winter driving fears 'on ice'

9:34 AM, Feb 22, 2013   |    comments
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LITTLE FALLS, Minn. - Her husband's Minnesota job offer was the last thing Eunjin Kim needed.

Already she'd had her fill of winter driving during a two year stint in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. But when Kim's husband landed an executive producer job at KARE 11, she found herself whisked away to an even more wintery destination.

Kim grew up in Korea and learned to drive after coming to the United States 15 years ago. But winter driving, that was another thing altogether.

"God bless anybody who's following me or in front of me," she said on a recent commute to work. It wasn't just self deprecating humor. Two winters ago, in Iowa, she totaled her car sliding into a pole on a snowy day.

Kim told us she needed help. We found her some in Lieutenant Robert Zak of the Minnesota State Patrol.

If you pay close attention to her story we're betting you'll learn some things that will help your winter driving as well.

Zak spent eight years training state troopers to drive under extreme conditions. But could he handle Kim? We were about to find out.

We brought Kim to the state patrol's training track at Camp Ripley near Little Falls. The skid pad was covered with a layer of ice and topped with roughly an inch of snow - perfect for what Zak had planned.

Almost immediately Zak inquired about Kim's steering position. "This is how I drive," she said, with hands gripping the bottom of the wheel. Not the best place for those hands, countered Zak.

Think of Kim's hands like those on a clock. "What we want to really advocate is that you have your hands at 10 and 2 or 9 and 3" position, Zak told her, since those hand positions are best for executing evasive maneuvers.

A few seconds into their drive, Zak also called Kim out for her hand-over-hand steering. Not a good technique he told her, when quick reactions are required. "You want to be smooth with your hands and just leave them on the steering wheel and just turn them gradually," he told her. "The more smooth you can be, the better off, the more control you're going to have of your car."

Kim's uncertainty is apparent as she enters the course and begins maneuvering around a series of orange cones. Zak quickly surmises she is focusing on the cones and not the clear path around them.

Troopers are taught that a car tends to go where the driver's eyes are pointed. So, drivers who find their eyes fixed on an obstacle they are trying to avoid will instead increase their odds of hitting it.

"Look where you want to go," Zak continually instructs Kim. She tries to follow his suggestions, but still struggles to maintain control. "Oh my goodness the car is going crazy," she tells him with concern in her voice. "You're in control," Zak reassures her. "You're in control."

"She was nervous, she was definitely nervous," Zak will later say. But Zak knows Kim's confidence will increase as she begins to understand the car's predictable responses to her inputs.

"How fast was I driving?" she asks him at one point. Zak hesitates a bit before informing Kim she had topped out at perhaps 10 to 15 miles per hour. An amused but pained look comes over Kim's face. "I felt like I was doing 40."

Next Kim has some things to learn about modern braking systems. "Slam on your brakes," Zak instructs her as the car is still picking up speed. "Okay, do you feel that pulsating?" he asks Kim, as the car slows.

The pulsating is Kim's anti-lock brakes kicking in. She later acknowledges she has been using her brakes improperly for years. "Before today I would pump the brake when it starts doing that shaking, vibrating thing."

Instead, Zak tells her to maintain steady pressure on her anti-lock brakes which will allow her to steer her car and slow it down at the same time.

A few more stops and Kim is able to use anti-brakes in the way they were designed.

But Zak has more to teach. He rearranges the cones and raises the bar. "This will actually apply real world," he says.

The cones now create two separate gates, forcing Kim to make a split second maneuver dependent on Zak's command of "left" or "right."

"Steer through it, steer through it," he counsels her as cones go flying. "That's okay, that's where we learn, those are just cones," he reassures Kim.

"Poor cones," she replies.

But as she practices Kim gains confidence. Speeds are increased and Kim consistently maneuvers across the slippery surface and through the gates. Kim begins to realize she is in control of the car and not the other way around.

"I didn't hit anything!" she exclaims after a successful run. "No you didn't," Zak praises her. "You went right through it."

Zak tells Kim she'd gain even more control over her car by investing in a set of softer, grippier winter tires, as opposed to the all-season radials she is currently running.

He then allows her to take a turn behind the wheel of his squad car to get a feel for the difference winter tires can make on the test track. "You're feeling pretty comfortable now," he observes. "I do," Kim responds, adding that she "loves" the tires.

The transformation is striking after just a couple hours on the skid pad. Kim has gone from timid and nervous to confident. "I feel like a superhero," she says. "I can do anything. That's how I feel."

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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