Driving in icy or snowy conditions is difficult and often dangerous. The first thing to consider when embarking on any journey in the snow or ice is whether it is essential to do so. The safest course of action is to not drive at all if you don’t absolutely have to. Driving in inclement weather conditions is treacherous even for the most skilled drivers so don’t take the risk and stay off the roads if you can. However, there are, of course, times when you absolutely need to drive. By adhering to the following tips you can give yourself the best chance of completing your journey successfully and safely.
1. Plan for the worst
Think about the worst case scenario and try to prepare for it by bringing along a few essential items. Consider what you’ll do if your car breaks down or you hit an icy patch and skid off the road. Take a fully-charged mobile phone to call for assistance as well as food and water for if you have to wait a while before help can reach you. Take a blanket and wear warm clothing in case the heater breaks in your vehicle and a first aid kit for any bumps or bruises you might suffer in a crash.
Double check you have your de-icing fluid or a scraper in the car with you and consider putting a shovel in the boot if the snow is a significant depth. With due care and attention, you’re not likely to need any of your emergency equipment but they could literally save your life if you do get into difficulty. Preparing your car for winter weather is a crucial aspect of staying safe BEFORE things get bad. Don’t underestimate the conditions as even the smallest amount of snow and ice is enough to cause serious problems for drivers.
2. Use your headlights
Put your headlights on to a low beam before you set off. Even in the middle of the day, heavy snow clouds can reduce visibility significantly. Turning your dipped beams on will not only make it easier for you to navigate but will make you easier to be seen by other road users.
If the visibility on the road is clear enough to see other road users in front and behind, don’t use your full beam. Fog lamps or full beam will reflect light off the falling snow and make it harder for you to see through the glare. Similarly, fog lights will impair the vision of drivers behind you by reflecting off the spray from the rear of your vehicle.
3. Increase your following distance
In snow or ice, the distance you leave between yourself and other road users needs to be seriously increased. Stopping distances on ice multiply ten fold compared to ideal road conditions so take the normal distance you leave and times it by ten. It can seem like an unnecessarily large space but you’ll be glad for it if you have to stop suddenly on a stretch of ice. At the low speeds you should be driving, a time of roughly 20 seconds should be left between vehicles. Conditions do vary so judge the situation for yourself and always err on the side of caution.
4. Adapt your driving style
You must adapt your driving style to the road conditions. Aggressive and sudden actions should be avoided in all aspects of your driving. Keep your acceleration and braking as gentle and fluid as possible to avoid losing traction. Keep the revs low and concentrate on making smooth and seamless gear changes. Early gear changes during acceleration and late changes when slowing down are vital to keeping the revs low.
5. Know how to handle skids
In tough, wintry conditions it is essential you know how to reduce the chances of skidding and also how to deal with skids if they do happen. Firstly, turn your music off so that you can listen attentively to the car and the road. Test your brakes at low speeds on straight, empty roads to get a feel for how they react and of the level of traction you have.
If you do start to skid, resist the urge to hit the brakes and instead rely on taking your foot off the accelerator to slow you down. As counterintuitive as it may seem, braking will only extend the skid. If the car starts to turn, steer into the spin to regain directional control. With your feet off the pedals, wait for the car to come to a halt. The relative lack of control a driver has during a skid is evidence for the need to drive slowly in snow and ice.
If it is essential to make a car journey in snow and ice you can greatly increase your chances of arriving at your destination safely by learning how to prepare and how to adapt to the situation. Learning how to handle the conditions now is key to being able to react quickly to any events that necessitate driving in more tricky circumstances.