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It's Always 'Winter' for Nordic Drivers

December 21, 1986|DAVID BARTAL | United Press International

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Novice drivers in Sweden and Norway are required by law to visit special "slippery tracks" to make sure they know how to drive in wintry weather--or avoid the occasional wandering moose.

At the tracks, applicants for their first drivers' licenses skid and spin their cars in simulated emergency situations.

"We're slippery year 'round," boasts the sign at Gillinge Slippery Track north of Stockholm, one of 21 such courses in Sweden.

Drivers at Gillinge come down a straightaway on one of three tracks at speeds up to 45 m.p.h. toward a point where they are expected to "panic brake" on wet, oil-slick or icy asphalt.

"A little faster," driving instructor Rut Fahlen urges an 18-year-old driving 20 m.p.h. She will have to slam on her brakes when she reaches a road section made slick by showering sprinklers.

Heavy Clunking Noise

Students either skid straight or twist waywardly, sometimes smashing harmlessly into flexible plastic barriers with a heavy clunking noise.

Part of the testing is to make sure drivers can handle the icy conditions of Scandinavian roads. Another part, however, is to make sure they can stay under control when suddenly confronting a moose.

In forested Sweden, moose frequently wander onto roadways. Twenty people were killed in moose-related traffic accidents in Sweden in 1984, the latest statistics available. The "moose" at Gillinge is a row of four orange plastic tubes meant to represent the legs of the animal.

It is neither cheap nor easy to obtain a driver's license in Sweden. Beginners often study and practice part time for months at professional schools, at a cost of up to 7,000 kronor ($1,000).

Despite the thorough training, "25% to 30% of the Swedes who try for a license after professional training flunk," said Ragnar Nahem of the Swedish Road Safety Office.

Private Training Less Reliable

Training privately for the tough test is even less reliable, Nahem said, with half of those who try failing to get a license.

The driver training programs including the skid schools--compulsory in Sweden since 1975 and in Norway since 1979--may also be introduced in Finland, another Nordic country whose long and severe winters place special demands on drivers.

In Norway, drivers are required to return for a brush-up in braking on the special tracks within two years.

"We think the important thing is to teach drivers their limitations when driving on slippery surfaces," said Tore Skjerping, director of the Norwegian Department of Driver Education.

"Part of the reason for the slippery tracks is to give drivers who train for their licenses during the summer a chance to practice driving and stopping under difficult road conditions," said Hans Rydgren of the Swedish Road Safety Board.

Such training appears to have played a role in Sweden's declining traffic death toll. In 1970 there were 1,307 road deaths in Sweden, compared to 808 in 1985.

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