If you have to drive in these conditions, then here are some top tips to help you complete your journey safely.
THE NO.1 RULE IS DO EVERYTHING SLOWLY AND GENTLY, AND ALLOW EXTRA TIME FOR YOUR JOURNEY!
The best advice we can offer is to avoid driving in snow, sleet and ice, as it will always be treacherous! Even if you remain confident and in control of your vehicle, not everyone else will.
Never drive in blizzard conditions, avoid long or remote journeys, and preferable drive in daylight for better temperatures and visibility. At least wait for the snowploughs and gritters to do their jobs, and heed the advice from authorities such as the AA or other motoring organisations before setting off!
• Practice makes perfect when driving, so ideally you will have taken a course on driving is adverse weather conditions as offered by a professional Instructor or motoring organisation, before the situation even arises. If not, you can sign up with a local driving Instructor for a lesson on coping in snowy conditions. It can even be useful to practice the techniques mentioned in this article on freshly fallen snow in a large, empty car park, out of shopping hours.
• ‘Winterise’ your car before setting out in the cold. The usual winter car service still applies, but you can also prepare as follows, keeping a few extra items in your boot:
Check you have a full tank of fuel; good snow-ice scraper; correct tyre pressure for the conditions; extra windshield washing fluid in the car; working headlights, making sure both front and tail lights are clear of snow; topped up mobile phone and car charger; shovel & salt/grit if possible; hat, gloves, coat and boots/wellingtons; torch; functioning radio; first aid kit; jump leads; warning triangle; old sack/rug (to use under wheels if stuck); water repellent spray; tow rope.
For longer or more remote journeys it would also be wise to take some food and water as a precaution, along with a sleeping bag/blankets, flask of tea/coffee, extra clothing and boots.
• Take a few minutes to prepare the car itself. Clear snow and ice from the roof and all windows of the car. A pile of snow on your roof can slide onto your windscreen and obscure you view, or launch a missile attack on to passing drivers! It is illegal to drive without full, all round vision, and the peep hole style windscreen only looks right on a tank!
• Use your air conditioner to help demist the inside of your windows, and use a cloth with elbow grease to clear smears on the inside of the glass. The low winter sun can be difficult enough without dirty windows. Sunglasses at the ready are also a good idea.
• Warm the key if you find your door lock has frozen, because breathing on the lock can cause more problems from frozen condensation.
• The AA currently recommends that tyres should have at least 3mm of tread for winter motoring, and certainly not less than 2mm. They also say that you should not reduce your tyre pressure to obtain more grip on snow as it doesn’t work, and can reduce the cars stability.
• Wear comfortable, dry shoes for driving and keep the snow-covered wellies in the boot. • It is always wise to tell family or friends where you are going, and what time you should be back! On longer or more remote journeys always let someone know your intended route, and expected time of arrival.
• Tune into local radio for traffic and weather updates.
TOP TIPS –
A good winter driver, who stands more chance of completing a snowy journey safely, will look ahead and anticipate problems. You will need to watch the road so as not to react abruptly – aim to be controlled, gentle and slow!
• SLOW DOWN – driving too fast is the main winter driving error. Every mistake will happen faster, and more dramatically!
• Use 2nd gear to pull away, gently coming off the clutch to avoid wheel-spin.
• Drive slowly, keeping a greater distance from the car in front, as stopping distances can be ten times longer when there is snow and ice.
• Begin slowing down sooner for stops and turns for the same reason.
• Occasionally check your traction by tapping the brakes.
• SLIDES – if the car starts to slide when the brakes are applied, stop braking immediately, and apply the brakes again but more slowly
• SKIDS – steer into skids. For example, if the car starts to skid to the right, turn the wheel to the right until you regain control of the car, then gently steer back onto the road. This will keep control of the car if you have time to do it!
DOWNHILL – reduce your speed and use a low gear as you approach the slope, trying to avoid use of the brakes. As always, leave as much room as possible between you and the car in front.
• CLIMBING A HILL – the key is to maintain a constant, controlled speed, and avoid changing down a gear on a hill. Reach the correct speed and gear on the lead up to the hill, as you do not want to stop once on the incline. Wait until the hill is clear of other cars, or at least leave plenty of room between you and the car in front. Reduce your speed and use a low gear as you approach the slope, trying to avoid use of the brakes. As always, leave as much room as possible between you and the car in front.
• CORNERING – always brake smoothly before entering a corner, but then release the brakes so as to use all the grip of the wheels to take the corner. You can then slowly accelerate out of the corner.
• MEMORY – if you drive on a regular route, then remember where the icy roads occur. Where do you often see water running across the road or large puddles? Bridges and intersections often ice up, as water tends to collect in these areas. Use your knowledge of the area to plan a safer route!
• STUCK – straighten the steering wheel and clear snow from around the wheels. Place the sack/old rug in front of the driving wheels to help with grip. Once moving keep going until you are on firmer ground.
• SNOWBOUND – if you are some distance from civilisation, then it is recommended that you stay with your car as it offers protection and makes it easier for emergency services to spot you. Never set off on foot in blizzard conditions! Just stay put, make sure your car exhaust is clear, run the engine for brief periods to warm the car whilst conserving fuel, and use your phone to let people know your location.
• BLACK ICE – one of winter’s worst hazards! Black ice is nearly transparent ice that may just look like a puddle or be overlooked completely. The usual rules apply to driving on black ice, if you can spot it. Test the traction of the road if in doubt by gently applying your brakes or slightly turn your steering wheel.
• 4 x 4 OR ALL-WHEEL DRIVE VEHICLES – can be useful in adverse weather conditions, but only if you know how to use the vehicle correctly, and have not become overconfident! All wheel drive will help you accelerate or keep moving, but it will not stop you sliding on ice or help you turn a snowy corner. Don’t be lulled into a sense of false security, as you will still need the skills already mentioned to maintain traction and keep safe!