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How to Drive Safely in the Snow and Ice

Driving in the snow and ice is a tough task. Here are some tips that may help you:

Britain does not get much snow generally, and as a result of that, us Brits generally lack experience. This blog will revisit the skills and precautions required for safe winter driving.

Firstly, driving in such extreme conditions is fraught with danger, so if you can avoid it at all costs, stay in and have a cuppa. However for some, this is not an option, so if you have to go out, there a few things you can do and techniques to use that will make sure you stay as safe as you can.

Do you really have to go out driving in the snow?

You hear it on the weather channel all the time, but it’s a good question to ask yourself – do I really need to make this journey? It will always feel like the journey is worth it but a good way of looking at it is… what’s the result of me not going on this journey and weigh that up against the harm that may come if you were to get stranded or end up in an accident.

Before you leave

Try not to think about the driving and how you are going to combat the road, take into account if things don’t go to plan and make sure you are prepared. Here’s a list of the essentials to pack with you:

  • Food and water
  • Warm clothing or blanket
  • Torch
  • First aid kit
  • Fully charged mobile phone
  • Shovel
  • Jump Leads
  • De-Icing fluid and ice scraper
  • Grit/sand/cat litter

Plan your route and try to keep to the main roads as much as possible.

These are likely to have been cleared or gritted the night before, so keeping to these roads stand you the best chance of getting to your destination.

Make sure your car has a full tank of fuel.

This may sound odd, but if you hit traffic you can keep the engine running and keep warm. WARNING – If you do end up queuing for a long period of time, get out of the car periodically and clear the snow from the exhaust pipe. Build up of snow in this area can cause carbon monoxide to enter back into the car and could cause fatal consequences.

Check the tread on your tyres and make sure there is at least 3mm on them.

Anything less than 3mm and your chances of coping with slippery roads are massively reduced. If you haven’t got a tyre tread gauge, try using a 20p piece. The bottom band should not be visible when you slot it in the tread.

Check the screen wash level and make sure there is an additive in there to stop it from freezing and cracking the pipes.

It is also good practice to ensure there is anti-freeze in the coolant bottle and this is also topped up to the maximum.

Use the car heaters to clear your windscreen.

Some people only use the car heaters to keep their hands and feet warm with the directional blowers. Be sure to use rear heated screen button and direct the hot air onto the front screen. This will clear both screens of mist and also prevent ice build up.

Clear ice and snow from the whole of your windscreen.

Do not just make a slot or a hole for you to see through. Remember to clear your side windows, wing mirrors, lights and number plates, and if you have them fitted the rear and front parking cameras. Don’t use HOT water as the temperature difference can crack or deform what you’re clearing; use de-icer spray or a scraper. Check the windscreen wipers and make sure they are not stuck to the screen.

If there is snow on the roof of the car, ensure you clear this before you set off. This is very important as when you drive off clumps of snow can fall down the windscreen and badly impair the drivers view or it can fly off and hit the car behind you and could cause an accident.

Use your lights

Many cars have AUTO lights these days, but when the snow is falling make sure you turn them to ON. Change the angle to a dipped beam option this will give you better vision on the road and enable drivers to see you in good time. DO NOT use fog lights unless visibility is very poor, rear fog lamps will dazzle other road users, and the effect is intensified when there is snow and spray on the roads.

The Highway Code states that you should only use your fog lamps when the visibility drops below 100m. A good rule of thumb test is that if you can’t see the rear tail lights of the car in front of you, you both should have the fog lights on.

Snow does not mean MAIN BEAM time. Use your main beam as you normally would. If you leave them on constantly you will dazzle other road users.

Keep Your Distance

It takes 10x as long to stop on an icy roads than it does on a dry one. Try and increase the distance between you and any other driver by 10x what you normally would. That may sound a lot, but if you start skidding that gap is quickly reduced. A good rule of thumb is you need to try and be 20 second behind them if the road is icy. That way if the car stops suddenly or even worse hits the car in front of them, you have plenty of time to stop or take avoiding action.

Use the 20 second rule and pick a point such as a lamppost, bridge or road sign. Watch when the car infant passes that point and start counting. If you pass that same point within 20 seconds then you need to increase the gap to allow more space.

Drive smoothly and slowly

Driving in wintery conditions isn’t just about clearing your screen and leaving more space. It requires a very different driving approach that not many people are aware of.

To begin with – all of your controls including steering, accelerator, brake, gear change should be as smooth and gentle as possible. Fast or abrupt changes the cars driving attitude will cause the tyres to lose what little grip they already have. This could lead to skidding, wheel spinning or getting stuck in the same position before you’ve even pulled off.

In a manual car, keep the engine revs as low as possible and move off slowly by slipping the clutch softly. Make sure you change the gear early so its keeps the revs down. This means the engine is turning slower and reduces the risk of a wheelspin.

If you are in an automatic car or 4-wheel drive. Check to see if it has a low ratio mode. This is sometimes show as an L or snowflake symbol on a button near to the gear lever. If it does have this – use it. Do not mistake the snowflake button for Sport mode, this is definitely not the option you want in the snow or ice.

Avoid sudden manoeuvres, such as sharp steering or sudden braking. Keep everything slow and smooth and you will limit your risk or losing control.

How to deal with skidding

It’s good practice to gently test your brakes and steering occasionally to get an idea of how slippery the road is. If you do do a test make sure its a straight road, away from obstacles and there is no one behind you.

Keep the volume of the radio down. You can often hear when you start skidding before you feel it. Driving through snow patches will create more tyre noise than usual as you can hear it crunching and compressing as well as the snow gathering up inside the wheel arches.

If you do start to skid:

  • Take your foot off the accelerator
  • Allow the speed to drop itself before you gain control
  • Avoid using the brakes – this will make the skid longer
  • If the car starts to spin, steer the car in the direction of the skid – NOT THE OTHER WAY

I do hope you have found this useful, please share with friends and family to make them aware of what to do in wintery conditions on the road.

Thanks, Jack

Also be sure to check out our blog on Preparing your car for winter

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