Winter conditions can present motorists with a considerable challenge. Freezing temperatures, poor visibility, and slippery road conditions cause a high risk of losing control of your vehicle and having an accident.
That's why when snowy weather arrives, it's essential to take proper precautions for yourself and your vehicle. Also, adopting a different approach to your driving style will help you avoid tough situations. Here are some useful tips for safely driving in snow.
First things first, your tyres. Regularly check the tread for wear and replace them if necessary. In most countries, the legal limit for tread depth on tyres is 1.6 mm, but safety experts at Continental advise a minimum of 3 mm for wet weather safety and 4 mm for winter tyres. Checking that you have the correct tyre pressure will also improve your car’s handling and fuel efficiency.
You should also give proper consideration to fitting your vehicle with winter tyres or all-season tyres. They have a dedicated tread pattern for better traction on snow and ice, and they use a unique rubber compound that stays flexible in cold, wet conditions. Tyres certified with a three-peak mountain snowflake symbol on the sidewall are the ones to get.
Before you embark on your journey, study the route ahead and allow enough time to reach your destination. Check local weather reports and traffic updates to anticipate any potential disruptions. Plan your route to favour major roads, since they're much more likely to have been cleared of snow and gritted.
Clear all snow from your car windows, mirrors, lights and the roof before you go; driving with snow on your car is dangerous and potentially a violation of the law. Flurries of snow could fall off your vehicle, for example, and obscure the vision of other drivers.
Top up the windscreen washer reservoir with a strong antifreeze concentration, so it doesn’t freeze on the glass. The inside of the windscreen will need demisting too. It's illegal to drive without full visibility through all the windows on your car.
You'll want to have a full tank of fuel, so take a detour to the nearest petrol station before starting the journey properly.
Keep a decent pair of sunglasses handy, which can reduce the glare of low winter sun on the snow. And keep your mobile phone fully charged, with the number of a breakdown provider stored so you can immediately call for help.
When you're ready to get behind the wheel, be sure to wear dry, comfortable footwear. Try to avoid bringing snow with you into the car; puddles will collect when it melts and the pedals will get slippery.
The golden rule is that all of the controls on your vehicle – including brakes, steering, acceleration and changing gears – should be operated slowly and smoothly.
Gently accelerate the vehicle using low revs and shift to a higher gear as quickly as possible. Keep your speed down, be aware of potential hazards, and give yourself enough time to brake and steer. To reduce the chances of the wheels slipping, use the second gear instead of the first gear.
Maintain a greater braking distance between your car and the vehicle in front of you, especially in conditions like rain, ice and snow; leave as much as ten times the usual recommended gap.
When starting or climbing hills, leave plenty of room in front of the car so you can maintain a steady speed without the need for changing gear or acceleration.
When going downhill, use a low gear for going downhill and try to avoid braking unless absolutely necessary. Again, make sure you leave plenty of space between you and the car in front of you.
Shift down and use engine braking to slow the car, but if you need to use the brakes apply them gently.
When approaching a curve, start to brake before you begin to turn the steering wheel. If your car loses grip, try not to panic; the best action is to ease off the accelerator and keep your wheels pointing in the direction you want to travel in.
If the car begins to skid, try not to panic. Steer gently into it. If the rear of the car is sliding to the left, for example, then steer to the left. You absolutely must not take your hands off the steering wheel or slam your foot on the brakes.
When driving through heavy snow, make sure to turn on your headlights. Don't just depend on daytime running lights. If visibility drops below 100 metres, turn on your fog lights. But remember to turn them off when visibility improves.
If there is no grit on the roads, avoid driving in the wheel tracks of other vehicles; packed snow is more icy than fresh snow.