Vehicle changes signal driving changes

Vehicle changes signal driving changes A record number of drivers will be confronting this winter's challenging driving conditions behind the steering wheel of a light truck, according to AAA South Dakota.

"A revolution had been taking place on South Dakota's highways, with more motorists driving sport utility vehicles, minivans and pickups," said Cheri Cihak, public affairs and marketing manager.

Motorists driving a light truck for the first time this winter need to be mindful that these vehicles have different handling characteristics than cars. A key advantage of all-wheel-drive is enhanced winter-weather mobility, but a light truck requires sticking to the same common-sense safety rules as a car.

"Above all, drivers need to guard against all-wheel-drive over-confidence," said Cihak. "It's easy to succumb to a 'road warrior' mentality, in which a four-wheel drive vehicle is viewed as excusing the driver from the cautions other drivers must abide by.

"But while an SUV's traction and all-wheel drive gets you on your way easier, it doesn't provide much advantage in stopping," she continued. "The tell-tale sign of all-wheel drive over-confidence is driving faster than others, particularly when bad weather slows traffic. But traveling at radically higher speeds is a proven recipe for crashes, particularly when roads are icy or wet."

AAA South Dakota advises motorists that car and light truck brakes function basically the same but stopping distance can vary for a variety of reasons. Inclement conditions, such as wet or icy pavement and reduced visibility, require drivers of all vehicles to maintain longer following distances.

In addition, the center of gravity for most light trucks is higher than in most cars, making sudden, jerky steering more likely to cause loss of control � especially in slick driving conditions.

Many new cars are front-wheel drive, but most light trucks are rear-wheel drive (when four-wheel drive is not available or engaged) and more prone to skidding because they have less weight over the drive wheels.

During the 1990s, light truck sales increased more than 50 percent and sport utility vehicles have grown from 7 percent of the market in 1990 to 16 percent in 1997, AAA South Dakota points out.

Safe winter driving tips for light trucks include:

* Know whether your vehicle is equipped with ABS brakes, and learn how to use your brakes properly, especially in slippery driving conditions.

* When the first snow falls, practice driving in an empty parking lot or other open space to get used to the brakes, steering and overall handling.

* Review your owners manual regarding handling characteristics and four-wheel drive operation and performance.

* Check the tire tread and make sure air pressure meets recommended PSI.

* Remove the snow and ice off you vehicle, particularly your windows and front and back lights, before driving.

* Guard against all-wheel drive over-confidence.

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