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Weather conditions ripe for washboard roads

By KTVA Alaska 8:00 AM January 16, 2014

Washboard roads are unavoidable and make driving on snow and ice extra dicey.

ANCHORAGE – Washboard roads: More than a slight annoyance for some drivers, they can actually cause vehicle maintenance issues and road safety problems, according to Meineke service writer Alex Ziegler.

“It can cause safety issues and it can cause maintenance issues,” Ziegler said. “Of course, you don’t want to lose control.  On washboarding, the vibrations can cause you to have less traction when stopping and starting. And also it does cause wear on your vehicle’s suspension.”

The washboarding effect happens as a result of the friction from vehicle tires warping ice and snow on wintery roads, Ziegler said. The mild winter Alaskans have been experiencing, he said, plays a role in washboard roads forming.

“We’ve had a lot of warmer temperatures which causes the snow and ice to melt, and then it’ll freeze at night, then melt and freeze. So that’s adding to some of the driving conditions,” Ziegler said.

Regardless of the number of times a street may be scraped flat, Ziegler said these rippled roads are unavoidable.

“Unfortunately, it’s something we live with up here,” he said.

According to AA Driver’s Educational School lead instructor Butch Evans, washboard roads can cause skidding, fishtailing and — most dangerously — hydroplaning.

“If you’re not driving prepared for winter driving you’re going to end up in a crash,” Evans said.

Evans has taught nearly 4,000 drivers in Anchorage over the past 32 years. He said the most common and dangerous mistake people make when sliding on icy roads is usually their first instinct — slamming on the brakes.

“You cannot steer sliding wheels, you can only steer rolling wheels,” Evans said.  “So, when a person gets into a slide the last thing they think about is letting the wheels roll, getting off the brake so they can have steering.”

Aside from proper training, Evans said, a driver’s first line of defense on dangerous roads is their tires. He said the more tread you have on a tire the more traction you get, which could mean the difference between an uneventful commute and ending up in a ditch, or worse.

Both Evans and Ziegler agreed the number one thing a driver can do to increase safety is simple: slow down.

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