How to keep yourself and your car out of the winter's next pile-up accident

David Kerley, Matt Hosford and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

Power Players

It has been a winter of massive pile-ups, and many of the accidents have been caused by simple mistakes. So, what should you do if you find yourself driving in dangerous winter conditions?

In this special edition of “Power Players,” we take you on a spin around Ford’s winter driving test track to get some answers on how to stay safe behind the wheel.

Ford test engineer Phil Couture demonstrated one of the most effective and simple tips: If you need to avoid an accident ahead, look where you want to steer the car instead of at the accident. Your steering wheel will follow your eyes.

It can get a little trickier, however, if you unexpectedly drive on to some black ice, since it is not usually visible to a driver and can cause you to overreact.

“What happens is you’re not expecting it, when you hit that black ice typically your wheels tend to spin up,” Couture said. “You’ll notice loss of steering control; people try to respond to that by steering the vehicle but there’s no traction because you’re on ice.”

That overcompensation in steering leads to another dangerous problem when the car gets off the ice: If your car wheels aren’t pointed straight, the car may make an abrupt and sudden turn. To avoid losing your cool on black ice, the best advice is to drive straight, don’t use cruise control, and pull off the gas and put on the breaks.

Hills can also become dangerous driving obstacles in icy conditions. If you ever see cars ahead of you sliding on a hill and your car doesn’t have four-wheel drive and a driver assist system, Couture advises to wait at the bottom of the hill until it is clear to proceed.

“It is better to stop at the base of the grade, use momentum to get up it,” Couture advises. “If you can’t do that, that’s where something like hill start assist comes in. That’s a great feature where you just take your foot off the brake, it will hold you there long enough to move your foot from the brake to the accelerator pedal and get moving again.”

One of the hardest lessons of all to learn – and one that is counterintuitive—is how to get out of a spin.

“When the back end states to slide, steer into the turn,” Couture said. “Once you've regained control of the vehicle, turn back in and finish the turn that you were trying to make in the first place.”

So, if you want to turn left and find that your car is spinning to the right, turn to the right, and you’ll be able to straighten the car out and regain your traction.

For those wary of winter driving, Couture advises having a car complete with new technologies that provide automatic responses to make it safer to drive in wintery weather conditions.

“The modern technology in vehicles really makes us better drivers than we really are,” he said. “And I think part of the thing we’ve got to be conscious of … [is] these technologies can expand the performance envelope, but that doesn’t mean they can still defy the laws of physics.”

But no matter how advanced the technological capabilities of your car, Couture said, the basic advice of slowing down and leaving plenty of space between you and the car ahead of continue to apply.

“Don’t get sucked into the activities of other cars around you,” he said, “whether that’s tailgating, speeding, again, do your own thing, stay within your own driving limits. Drive your own race.”

For more of the interview with Couture, and to see how “Power Players” performs behind the wheel on Ford’s winter driving test track, check out this episode.

ABC News' Richard Coolidge, Alexandra Dukakis, Tom Thornton, and Pat O'Gara contributed to this episode.