5 Tips for driving safely in the winter
Following on from Getting your car winter ready, here we complete 'how to be safe driving in winter' lesson with tips on coping with nasty road conditions.
We’re going to start with the obvious – if there’s snow and ice forecast and you can avoid driving at all, do that. Stay inside where it’s safe and warm instead. If you really need to drive, here are 5 tips on how to manage your car in winter weather.
1. Smooth and steady wins the day
Staying smooth and steady is the key to safe winter driving. When the roads are icy or wet don’t set off at speed, or try to stop quickly. These two scenarios are highly likely to end in slippery, skiddy disaster.
When you need to slow down, use your gears as an engine brake. Move down through the gears until you reach your desired speed, like you were taught to do when driving down very steep hills.
Of course, we don’t really need to tell you how dangerous cornering can be. So be more cautious and take things slowly.
Try not to stop when you’re going uphill. In fact, try not to stop at all, unless you legally need to do so. So, roll slowly towards a red light and, hopefully, if you time it right, it’ll turn back to green before you have to stop.
It’s easier to pull away in a manual car if you let the clutch up gently. And to prevent wheel spinning, make sure you keep engine revs low by changing up the gears early, and down as late as possible.
Automatics and 4x4s usually have a special mode for driving in the snow – use it. And if you use sport mode, turn it off too.
If you get stuck, don’t rev your engine, you’ll spin your wheels and dig yourself in deeper and deeper. Instead try rocking your car backwards and forwards gently, to ease yourself out of the rut and onto a place where your tyres can grip. Or, if you’ve got your bag of cat litter in the boot, use that.
2. Choose the right lights
When it’s snowing always put your headlights on, but keep them dipped. This will help other drivers see you in the gloomy conditions.
Remember to put your fog lamps only when visibility is below 100m. It can be very tempting to use them on dark mornings and evenings, but that’ll dazzle other drivers, especially when there’s water on the road. If you’re unsure about needing your fog lights, use this simple check – can you see the rear lights of the car in front of you? If you can, you probably don’t need your fog lights on. If you can’t, put them on.
3. Keep the car quiet
Did you know snow and ice sound differently when you’re driving on them? Snow will be crunchy as you drive over it. And as it gets picked up and thrown around your wheel arches, it’ll create quite a bit of sound too. Ice, on the other hand, will be quiet. So, if you’re driving along and suddenly there’s silence, you’ve probably hit a patch of the slippery stuff.
4. Keep your distance
A little test for you? How many times you should multiply your stopping distances on wet roads? And on snowy or icy roads?
If you said double for wet and times it by 10 for snow and ice, you’d be right. So, if you’re travelling at 30mph on ice and snow, the distance you need to stop is 230 metres! To give you some perspective, that’s the same distance as two football pitches. Go on admit it, it’s much longer than you thought it’d be.
Source: The Highway Code
5. Be skid ready
There can always be a time, no matter how much you prepare, that you’re going to find yourself skidding. When that happens, you need to be ready.
When you feel the skid, don’t hit the brakes. Instead, take your foot off the accelerator and allow the car to slow until you’re back in control. If the car starts to spin, steer into it to straighten up again. Seems illogical, but it works.
But this isn’t the only skid danger on winter roads, there’s aquaplaning too. This is when you drive onto a patch of surface water too quickly and the tread on your tyres can’t remove the water, resulting in a loss of grip on the road surface.
If this happens, don’t brake, just ease off the accelerator until your speed naturally decreases or you clear the water.
And here ends the lesson. So, you’ve prepped your car and tweaked your driving skills – you should be all set to drive in the snow. But, please remember, only drive in winter weather if you absolutely have to. If you don’t, just stay safe at home.