Road Warriors Ice, 4-Wheel Drive Can Be Risky Combination

By Robert Manor Of The Post-Dispatch | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), January 29, 1997 | Go to article overview

Road Warriors Ice, 4-Wheel Drive Can Be Risky Combination


Robert Manor Of The Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Automotive experts agree this week's snow and ice prove one thing - some owners of four-wheel-drive vehicles are ignorant of the risk they pose to themselves and others.

Some motorists with four-wheel-drive vehicles tailgated as the ice fell Monday, their high-mounted headlights pouring glare into the vehicles ahead.

Some made sharp turns in front of oncoming cars that had no chance of stopping. Some drove 40 mph on streets so slick it was difficult even to walk. "I saw a couple of those last night," said Mike Right, spokesman for the American Auto Club of Missouri. Right quickly acknowledges that most people who own four-wheel-drive vehicles are responsible drivers who try to do no harm. But some owners of four-wheel-drive vehicles seem oblivious to the problems they cause, assuming they are exempt from the laws of physics. They also may suffer from a false sense of security. Four-wheel-drive is most common among sport utility vehicles, such as the Explorer built at the Ford plant in Hazelwood. But many pickups and minivans are equipped with four-wheel drive, and some passenger cars come with a variant system called all-wheel drive. Four-wheel drive is an increasingly popular option, especially in climates with snow. More than 2 million vehicles with four-wheel drive were sold last year. Right said some people with sport-utility vehicles are driving far too fast for road conditions such as those on Monday and Tuesday. Sport-utility vehicles with four-wheel drive do offer advantages in snow and ice. With power transmitted to all wheels, they are able to accelerate smoothly when other vehicles hopelessly spin their tires. Sport-utility vehicles have higher road clearance than passenger cars, meaning they can roll over snow that would immobilize a low-slung sport coupe. Right said he thinks some sport-utility drivers are overconfident and sure the poise that their vehicle offers in acceleration also applies to braking and turning. They are wrong. "They go faster because they have better traction," Right said. "But they are not going to stop any faster," he said. Four-wheel drive presents no benefit in braking on ice. The ability to stop is largely determined by the friction of road and tire, and when the pavement is glazed, General Motor's Cadillac and Toyota's 4 Runner can take equally long to come to a halt. …

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